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QLD: Company fined for hindering WHS inspectors after worker impaled

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, 3 August, 2021 - 12:45
Category: 
Incidents & prosecutions
Location: 
Queensland

A Brisbane company has been fined more than $70,000 for separate charges after a worker’s leg was impaled and Workplace Health and Safety Queensland inspectors were blocked from entering its worksite.

The company was fined $68,000 in Brisbane Magistrates Court for failing to meet its health and safety duty, and another $6000 for hindering the inspectors.

The company director was also charged for hindering inspectors and received a court-ordered undertaking for a period of 12 months, with a surety of $4000 that he did not contravene the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

The court heard the company manufactured concrete products for bridges and other large civil construction projects and as part of the process, steel cables were run through the length of moulds and stressed by a machine.

Cables were joined between products cast in the same line to tailor to the mould sizes, with cables held in joiners with a barrel and wedge pieces. Inside each wedge was a series of ridges that allowed it to grip the cable.

On 13 May 2019, a worker was unwinding locking nuts as part of the process of de-stressing steel cables, when one of the cables under tension slipped free from a cable joiner, with wires from it impaling his right leg and wounding his right forearm.

A post-incident inspection concluded that rust and dirt on the teeth of the wedges did not allow them to properly grip the cable and that they were not suitable for use.

The company had a procedure to ensure that wedges were free from dirt and other foreign matter before use, but there was no system for inspecting and maintaining the condition of barrels and wedges.

After the incident, the company welded a steel plate across the gap at the end of the stressing machine, to prevent cables from striking workers and implemented a system of wedge inspection and maintenance.

Magistrate Michael Quinn observed the company had procedures and a number of protective features in place but that they did not go far enough, and the accident was foreseeable to the company.

In sentencing, he took into account the defendant’s early guilty plea, showing remorse and cooperation, the post-incident safety measures, and that the company had no previous convictions under WHS legislation.

With regard to the hindering charges, WHSQ inspectors over two days sought entry to the site, but a company director and a health and safety manager both repeatedly refused them permission to enter.

Magistrate Quinn said there was a considerable public interest in ensuring worker safety by inspectors attending workplaces and exercising their lawful compliance powers.

His Honour accepted there had not been any repetition of offending and the defendant and the manager were now aware of their responsibilities with regard to inspectors entering the workplace