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Small farm business fined $165K after worker falls

A tomato grower has been fined $165,000 after a farmhand, who was directed to remove plastic sheets from a hot house roof, lost his balance and fell backwards 2.5 metres to the ground.

The worker fractured his spine, which resulted in spinal cord damage and left him quadriplegic. He was hospital-bound until his death from respiratory failure and recurrent pneumonia about 6 months later. His death was not alleged to be linked with the fall.

Austral Hydroponics was charged with failing to comply with its health and safety responsibilities under the state’s Work Health and Safety Act, having been found to have exposed its worker to a risk of death or serious injury.

NSW District Court Judge Scotting stated: “The risk posed by workers falling from the roof of the hot house was foreseeable and obviously so. The ways in which that risk could be minimised were set out in the Code of Practice which was readily available”.

“[The employer] failed to [take] reasonable steps to ensure compliance with the Code of Practice. No risk assessment of the task being undertaken…had been conducted and there was no safe work procedure in place. [The employee] was not adequately supervised, or provided with assistance in undertaking the task. [The employer] did not take reasonable steps to ensure that workers were directed not to work on the roof of a hot house unless a risk assessment had been conducted and control measures to minimise risks to safety were implemented”.

Had the employer been found responsible for their employee’s death, the fine imposed could have been much higher. Under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, individuals can be fined up to $300,000, while corporations can receive penalties up to $1.5 million.

The charges in this case only related to the injuries the worker sustained from the fall, which happened in 2015.

The company could have been fined $220,000, however, as the sole director pleaded guilty, this was reduced by 25%.

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