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Simple steps could have prevented death of young worker and $375K fine

Rural turf company Turfco received a $375,000 fine for breaching NSW’s Work Health and Safety Act, after one of its employees was killed when operating a turf harvester.

The teenage turf stacker fell off a narrow, unfenced platform at the rear of the harvester and was crushed to death by it when it reversed.

Neglecting to follow the instructions in the harvester’s operator’s manual, the employers had adopted a method of harvesting that involved reversing the vehicle for long distances, contrary to the advised safe system of work that was outlined in the manual.

Their process also required the driver of the harvester to get on and off the vehicle while it was moving, which they referred to as the ‘hop-off system’. This contravened a direction in the manual to never attempt to get on and off the vehicle while it was in motion.

On the front cover of the manual it was clearly written: “Those who use and maintain this machine should be trained in its proper use, warned of its danger and should read the entire manual”. In addition, there was a sign next to the driver’s seat on the harvester that read: “Caution – avoid injuries, read operator’s manual before operating machinery”.

Turfco’s logistics manager told the court: “We didn’t read the manual when we got the machine – it’s hands on”, and further confirmed that the company had no documented system for operating the harvester.

The Judge concluded: “There were simple steps which the offender could have implemented at no cost to eliminate the risk, such as implementing the harvesting system outlined in the operator’s manual or directing the turf stacker to alight from the harvester when it was travelling in reverse. The available steps would not have caused any inconvenience to the offender.”

The company would have faced a fine of $500,000 plus costs, but an early guilty plea reduced the amount by 25%.

Since the incident, Turfco has implemented a system that now meets the standards required by the Act.

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