A prior conviction weighs against company in sentencing
A company found guilty of a work health and safety offence in 2017 was convicted again this month after one its workers was struck and seriously injured by a heavy industrial mould at its premises in Queensland.
Gough Industries Pty Ltd operates a business that manufactures plastic products, including plastic water tanks. At Gough Industries’ workplace, large cylindrical moulds were stored on a mezzanine floor platform, which was located above a worker’s station.
Licensed workers would use the forklift at the workplace to remove the moulds from the platform. Workers were trained by other workers on how to perform this task; however, Gough Industries had not conducted a risk assessment nor implemented a safe work method statement (SWMS). There was a general exclusion zone implemented for workers to remain 3 metres from operating forklifts.
On 17 May 2021, two workers were at the worker’s station and another worker was operating the forklift to remove a 10,000L mould from the platform. The mould, while being removed with the forklift, struck an adjacent mould, causing it to fall and hit one of the workers, who had moved next to the worker’s station. The worker sustained serious fracture injuries to his spine, requiring hospitalisation and surgery.
WorkSafe Queensland investigated the incident and issued improvement notices to Gough Industries, which were complied with. After the incident, Gough Industries removed the moulds from the platform and amended its traffic management plan to include specific guidance on exclusion zones that were to be maintained within the workplace.
Gough Industries pleaded guilty to a Category 2 offence, being a charge of breaching section 23 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld) (WHS Act), having failed to comply with its primary duty under section 19 of the WHS Act and exposing a worker to a risk of serious injury or death.
In sentencing, the Magistrate focused on the nature of the offence, noting that the risk was foreseeable and harm was potentially very serious. The Magistrate emphasised that the penalty needed to reflect specific deterrence, given Gough Industries’ prior record, and reflect the community’s denunciation of this type of offending.
Gough Industries was fined $100,000 and a conviction of guilty was recorded.
The case reflects that a lack of a good safety record will be an important factor in determining what penalty to impose in any new offence. Importantly, the case demonstrates that reliance on a general exclusion zone is no substitute for a proper traffic management plan, risk assessments and SWMSs for all tasks conducted at the workplace that pose a risk of serious harm.
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