2 min read

Prosecution of a hot air balloon company launched after 3-metre fall

A Victorian hot air balloon company has been fined $40,000 for failing to ensure the safety of a worker undertaking maintenance work on the roof of the company shed, and a further $4,000 for failing to immediately report the incident (WorkSafe Victoria v Global Ballooning Australia Pty Ltd [2024]).

The company, Global Ballooning Australia Pty Ltd, operates commercial hot air balloon services out of the Yarra Valley in Victoria.

During peak periods, the company employs casual ground crew staff to conduct pre- and post-flight safety checks on the hot air balloons and help passengers board each ride. In the off-season, these workers are tasked with carrying out general maintenance work around the site.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Global Ballooning Australia was unable to offer hot air balloon rides due to the lockdowns in place in Victoria. In response, the company reduced the size of its operations and laid off several workers. The remaining workers performed general upkeep tasks to maintain the site during the shutdown period.

While carrying out odd jobs around the site, a member of the casual ground crew noticed that the gutters of the sheds on site needed cleaning. The worker, acting on their own initiative, used a ladder to climb onto the shed roof and proceeded to clean the gutters of three sheds using a leaf blower. The worker did not use a safety harness to protect against the risk of a fall.

While moving around on the roof, the worker stepped on an old fibreglass skylight, which collapsed, causing the worker to fall 3 metres to the ground below. The worker was hospitalised with serious injuries, including a burst fracture in their back.

Global Ballooning Australia waited 2 days before reporting the incident to WorkSafe Victoria.

Global Ballooning Australia was charged under section 21 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (Vic) (OHS Act) for its failure to provide a safe working environment for its employees. The Magistrate found that the company had breached its duty by failing to provide a safe system of work for employees who were performing maintenance works on the shed roof. The Magistrate considered that it was reasonably practicable for the company to know that workers would look to access the roof of the shed to undertake maintenance work and so should have implemented a safety harness system to mitigate the risk of fall. In shifting workers’ duties to a maintenance focus, Global Ballooning Australia should have reassessed any safety risks that the workers would be exposed to from that work.

Global Ballooning Australia was also charged and convicted under section 38 of the OHS Act for failing to immediately notify WorkSafe after the incident.

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