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SA: café operator fined $18,000 over serious burns to young worker

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of members. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Date: 
Wednesday, 20 January, 2021 - 12:45
Category: 
Incidents & prosecutions
Location: 
South Australia

A company in South Australia operating a café was recently convicted and its director fined after a young casual worker suffered serious burns.

On 15 August 2018 a worker at the cafe was in the process of refuelling an ethanol burner located in the dining area when a fireball erupted, engulfing the young worker.

The worker sustained burns to her face, hands, ears and neck.

The South Australian Employment Tribunal found H & T Cook Enterprises Pty Ltd guilty but no penalty was imposed, while Tiarne Cook, a director of H & T Cook Enterprises, received a fine and was ordered to pay costs and the Victims of Crime Levy.

SafeWork SA launched proceedings against H & T Cook Enterprises and Cook, who operated Royal Copenhagen Café at Brighton for a breach of section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA) for failing to comply with their section 19 duty to ensure the health and safety of workers whilst at work.

As the company has since sold the café and no longer has assets or income, no fine was imposed.

The South Australian Employment Tribunal said it would have imposed a fine of $110,000 before application of the sentencing discount for an early guilty plea if the company had had any assets or income.

Cook pleaded guilty to a breach of her health and safety duty under the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA) and was fined $18,000 (after reduction of 40 per cent for her early plea of guilty) with no conviction recorded.

H & T Cook Enterprises failed to:

  • ensure the burner was refuelled in accordance with manufacturer’s operating instructions or otherwise in a safe manner
  • provide all workers with written instructions to refuel the burner in accordance with the manufacturer’s operating instructions or otherwise in a safe manner
  • train all workers to refuel the burner with the burner mouth closed, with use of the manufacturer’s jerry can, and with use of the manufacturer’s dedicated refuelling point
  • adequately train workers to require the ethanol burner to cool for at least 30 minutes before refuelling
  • supervise the refuelling of the burner.

 

As the director of the business, Cook failed to:

  • exercise due diligence to ensure that H&T Cook Enterprises complied with its health and safety duty
  • train the employee to refuel the burner without ensuring that the employee knew it should be refuelled only when completely cool, when shut off, and by use of the specialised jerry can through the dedicated refuelling point.

 

These failures exposed individuals to a risk of serious injury, and SafeWork SA Executive Director, Martyn Campbell said it is the responsibility of the employers to pay specific attention to ensure that young workers are properly trained and supervised, and provided with sufficient information to work safely.

“It is important for business owners to have safe systems in place including training and supervision when employing young, casual and inexperienced workers to ensure their safety at work.

“Many young workers may be working for the first time and do not have the experience and awareness to identify safety risks or hazards, making them a vulnerable group in the workplace,” said Campbell.