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Workplace chainsaw incident results in court fine of $45,000

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, 13 July, 2022 - 12:15
Category: 
Incidents & prosecutions
Location: 
Queensland

A strawberry farm on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland and its director have been fined a combined $45,000 over a workplace incident involving a chainsaw, in which a worker had both legs fractured by a falling tree branch.

The defendants pleaded guilty in the Caloundra Magistrates Court to charges of breaching sections 27(1) and 32 of Queensland’s Work Health and Safety Act 2011 by failing to comply with their health and safety duties and exposing an individual to a risk of death or serious injury.

The court heard that on 21 September 2020 a worker was instructed to fell, trim and remove two large trees at the farm using a chainsaw, a task incidental to the ordinary work carried out by the business.

A Workplace Health and Safety Queensland investigation revealed that after the two trees were cut down, the worker was cutting branches from one of the fallen trees in the work area and occasionally his chainsaw would become stuck in the tree. He sought the help of another worker to lift and move the larger tree limbs using a skidder.

On three or four occasions, that worker lifted the tree limb with the bucket of the skidder, allowing the injured worker to free his chainsaw.

While the limb remained suspended in the air by the skidder, the injured worker moved closer in an attempt to quickly cut a remaining branch from the underside of the limb with his chainsaw, disturbing the weight of the suspended limb, causing it to fall from the skidder bucket and land directly on the injured worker’s legs.

The limb was 38 cm thick and 6.87 metres long. As a result of the incident, the injured worker suffered a fractured tibia and fibula in both legs, a dislocated and fractured ankle, and a fractured metacarpal in his right hand.

The court heard the company did not undertake a risk assessment for the work, did not have a safe work method statement and its workers were not formally trained or qualified to carry out the work.

The WHSQ investigation further revealed relevant codes of practice for the work, including the Forest Harvesting Code of Practice 2007 had not been reviewed.

Magistrate Catherine Benson accepted the nature of the work was isolated from the ordinary course of the company’s business, noting the defendant had put arrangements in place to ensure the work would be carried out by professionals in the future.

In sentencing, Magistrate Benson accepted the early pleas of guilty had been entered and the significant cooperation with the WHSQ investigation. The director was fined $7500 and the company $37,500, with no convictions recorded.