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Not-for-profit organisation fined $30,000 after worker suffers fractures

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: 
Wednesday, 20 July, 2022 - 13:00
Category: 
Incidents & prosecutions
Location: 
Queensland

A not-for-profit business that stores and distributes food to other charities has been fined $30,000 after an incident in 2020 left an employee with hip and foot fractures.

At a sentencing hearing in the Brisbane Magistrate Court, the organisation was found guilty under sections 19(1) and 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 for failing its primary health and safety duty and that failure exposed an individual to a risk of death or serious injury.

At the time, the organisation had a warehouse where paid employees and unpaid volunteers worked.

On 13 March 2020, a paid worker was operating a forklift to move goods between the warehouse building and vehicles in the loading zone. Contrary to the defendant’s work instruction, a volunteer entered the loading zone to take a break.

The worker drove the forklift into the loading zone and didn’t see the other man who was standing near a truck and a stack of pallets. Sadly, the forklift ran into the volunteer who suffered fractures to his right pelvis and foot that required hospital treatment.

The court heard the organisation failed to adequately ensure workers complied with its policies and procedures for eliminating or minimising the potential for contact between pedestrians and moving plant.

Workers had not been sufficiently trained, and there was no system to enforce, its work instruction prohibiting pedestrians from being in a loading zone at the front of the warehouse.

Like similar zones of activity at the facility, the loading zone was delineated by painted markings on the ground. The defendant’s work instruction prohibited pedestrian workers from entering or remaining in the loading zone.

The defendant’s failure to ensure compliance with its work instruction was a failure of its health and safety duty. That failure exposed workers to the risk of death or serious injury from contact with moving plant.

In sentencing, Acting Magistrate Michael Bice noted there was a high onus on duty-holders under the Act for good reason, given the potential for injury and death when duties are not complied with.

Even though the defendant was a non-profit charitable organisation that functions for community benefit, his Honour recognised its non-compliance with work health and safety obligations justified a need to convey a deterrent message.

Acting Magistrate Bice noted the organisation had relevant procedures in place, including an induction process, but agreed with the prosecution’s submission that the incident was indicative of erosion in the defendant’s enforcement of those procedures.

His Honour remarked there was an element of complacency that ultimately led to the materialisation of the risk.

His Honour took into account an early guilty plea, that the defendant is a charitable organisation assisting vulnerable members of the community, and that it is a good corporate citizen. He was also impressed by the significant post-incident steps taken by the organisation (more than $1.1 million) to prevent such incidents occurring in future and the defendant provided care for the injured volunteer.

The organisation was fined $30,000, plus costs of almost $1600. No conviction was recorded.

This incident, subsequent investigations and legal proceedings and outcomes are another harsh reminder charitable organisations have an obligation to always keep their workers and volunteers safe.