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Fertiliser company fined $250,000 over worker crush fatality

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Date: 
Tuesday, 31 May, 2022 - 12:45
Category: 
Incidents & prosecutions
Location: 
Queensland

A Queensland fertiliser company has been fined $250,000 after a worker was crushed by machinery at its Narangba plant.

The company pleaded guilty in the Caboolture Magistrates Court to breaching Queensland’s Work Health and Safety Act 2011 for failing to comply with its work health and safety duty, exposing workers to the risk of death or serious injury.

The court heard the company’s Narangba factory includes a bagging room where bags are filled with fertiliser, sealed, flattened and stacked on pallets by machinery. At the time, the machinery consisted of an exposed conveyor belt that moved the bags through each stage, with workers required to inspect bags on the moving conveyor.

On 10 March 2020, a worker was found unconscious on the conveyor with his head and torso drawn partly into the flattener, the result of contacting the moving conveyor. His injuries included a severe traumatic brain injury caused by blunt force. He could not be revived.

A Workplace Health and Safety Queensland investigation found the factory routine was that bags not properly sealed were manually removed before reaching the flattener. Once resealed, they would be replaced on the conveyor for flattening and stacking.

As a result, workers were exposed to the real potential of serious or fatal injury from contacting the moving conveyor.

The investigation revealed the defendant had not taken measures that would have eliminated or minimised the risk. Measures could have included stopping workers from touching bags on the moving conveyor, installing guarding and creating exclusion zones.

There was no risk assessment done for working in the bagging room, nor were there any operating procedures for workers using the conveyor belt in the same area.

In sentencing, Magistrate James Blanch found the “necessary and vital steps” which could have prevented the risk “were not elaborate or onerous”. He also considered the tragic consequences for the worker and his family.

Magistrate Blanch also took into consideration the company had been operating since 1993 without any contravention of its obligations, that it had begun implementing safety systems at the plant before the incident and its timely guilty plea.

After the tragedy, the defendant's company had taken remedial steps and helped the victim’s family.

His Honour fined the company $250,000 and ordered costs of almost $1,600. Magistrate Blanch declined to record a conviction, noting the defendant had otherwise been of good corporate character and had showed contrition.