WA: cargo services company fined $110,000 over serious injury to worker

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.
Monday, 25 July, 2022 - 12:00
Incidents & prosecutions
Western Australia

A ground and air cargo services company has been fined $110,000 and ordered to pay $8000 in costs over an incident in which a baggage handler was seriously injured when he fell from a moving baggage tug at Perth Airport.

Swissport Australia pleaded guilty to failing to provide and maintain a safe workplace and, by that failure, causing serious injury to a worker, and was recently fined in the Perth Magistrates Court.

In August 2018, the injured worker was engaged in the duties of unloading baggage from a Virgin Australia Airlines aircraft, when another Swissport employee drove by him on a baggage tug.

He boarded the vehicle as a passenger and after travelling a short distance, the driver turned the tug and he fell from the side onto the tarmac, hitting his head on the ground. The vehicle was not fitted with a passenger seatbelt.

The worker suffered serious head injuries and required urgent surgery, followed by further urgent surgeries later due to complications from his injuries. He also suffered ongoing medical problems requiring physiotherapy and occupational therapy.

The case was another example of an organisation not performing adequate risk assessments or acting to improve or eliminate workplace hazards, said WorkSafe WA commissioner Darren Kavanagh.

“The vehicle from which the worker fell did not have a seatbelt for a passenger, and workers were permitted to ride in it,” Kavanagh said.

“After this incident, both Swissport’s airport manager and ramp manager confirmed that, had a risk assessment been performed, the tug involved in the incident would not have been in service until a passenger’s seatbelt was installed.”

Both Swissport’s own written procedures and Virgin’s procedures for Swissport prior to this incident stated that seatbelts were to be worn “when fitted” but did not prohibit driving or riding on a tug that was not fitted with seatbelts.

Both the driver of the tug and the injured passenger assumed the vehicle had been assessed as safe as it was in use, and no instructions were given to conduct pre-start checks on the luggage tugs.

“The circumstances of this incident indicate that Swissport failed to provide a safe and healthy work environment for its workers, and the company has been penalised accordingly,” said Kavanagh.

Virgin Australia Airlines Pty Ltd has also been charged over this incident. The company has pleaded not guilty and the matter is listed for a trial allocation in August.