Company cleans up its act with an enforceable undertaking
A Victorian enforceable undertaking, valued at nearly $200,000, highlights the significant risks involved in failing to ensure high-pressure water and vacuum equipment are properly used.
In November 2022, Wannon Region Water Corporation (the Corporation) entered into an enforceable undertaking in substitution for a prosecution relating to two serious matters involving uncontrolled high-powered cleaning equipment.
The Corporation provides water, sewerage and infrastructure services to a large part of south-west Victoria.
On 8 February 2020, an employee was using a high-pressure water jetting machine to clear a blocked sewerage pipe. The blockage was reached by connecting a smaller leader hose to a larger main hose on the jetting machine.
The worker operating the nozzle was not wearing face protection in circumstances where the worker’s face could have been seriously damaged if:
- debris exited the sewer line after being cleared; or
- the coupling on the main hose decoupled from the leader hose; or
- high-pressure water came out of either the leader hose or main hose.
The charges against the Corporation stated that in fact the leader hose was not connected to the main hose by a restraint device, being a braided hose designed to withstand and contain the energy created at the time of a hose or coupling failure.
As a result, when the blocked sewerage pipe was cleared, the leader hose decoupled from the main hose and struck the worker in the face, causing serious injuries.
A second incident – this time a near miss – occurred shortly afterwards on 25 February 2020 when a WorkSafe inspector observed three workers using a vacuum excavator without any personal protective equipment. They were performing vacuum slurry excavations in circumstances where there was a risk of death or serious injury from being struck in the face or head by objects that became airborne.
On 2 November 2022, the charges against the Corporation were withdrawn on the basis that its proposal for an enforceable undertaking was accepted.
The Corporation undertook to:
- present and share learnings about the incidents with senior industry leaders across its service region and the Victorian water industry;
- fund the development of a program to educate employees, contractors, subcontractors and any interested parties in the Southwest Region of Victoria regarding the risks associated with high-pressure water jetting activities;
- engage a suitable expert to undertake an internal culture review with the aim of establishing a shared understanding of safety leadership in the Corporation; and
- develop an internal safety award program, aiming to recognise workers who have actively promoted and suggested innovative ways to improve workplace health and safety.
As this case demonstrates, enforceable undertakings are an alternative to prosecution when you breach your health and safety duties. To learn more about them, check out the Health & Safety Handbook chapter Enforceable undertakings.
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