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Worker at Air Force base suffers severed leg

The Case

Comcare v Department of Defence (2021)

On 16 August 2017, at the Royal Australian Air Force base in Townsville, workers were assigned the task of removing nylon tape (designed to stop planes during emergency landings) from an aircraft arrestor unit. The workers were using a tow motor to remove the nylon tape while on a flatbed truck. The nylon tape reached the end of the reel, pulling the arrestor unit from the truck and entangling a worker who was on the rear of the vehicle at the time.

The worker fell onto the runway and the arrestor unit landed on his legs, severing one and causing severe injuries to the other.

The Judgement

The Department of Defence pleaded guilty to failing to implement safety measures that could have prevented the obvious and foreseeable risks, and breaching section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

The Court found that the Department had failed to provide a safe system of work, including by failing to carry out adequate risk assessments or securing the arrestor unit to the truck.

The Department of Defence was ordered to pay a fine of $350,000.

The Lessons

Employers need to undertake risk assessments to ensure that reasonably practicable controls can be implemented to eliminate or minimise the risk of harm to workers.

Monitoring and auditing are also required to ensure that any foreseeable risks are not missed.

Please note: Case law is reported as correct and current at time of publishing. Be aware that cases in lower courts may be appealed and decisions subsequently overturned.

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