Company fined for forklift injuries

By Andrew Hobbs on October 5th, 2017
  1. Fire, Emergency & Incidents
  2. Incident Investigations

A HARDWARE store has been convicted and fined $85,000 after two workers were injured when heavy steel tubes fell from a stationary forklift.

South Australian-based Balhahn Pty Ltd, trading as Balhannah Mitre 10 (the Company), pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to provide and maintain a safe system of work for the movement of stock on its premises.

South Australian Employment Court Deputy President Stephen Lieschke recorded a conviction against the Company after finding there was no guarantee such an incident would not be repeated – and noting it declined the opportunity to enter an enforceable undertaking with the regulator.

What went wrong

The incident occurred when two of the tubes, weighing 60-80kg each, fell from a strapped pack of six tubes sitting on the tines of a forklift that one of the injured workers had driven into the store.

The tubes fell when the licensed forklift operator cut into the strapping that held them together, with one tube hitting the operator on the foot and the other striking the leg of another worker who was walking past at the time.

The tribunal heard that the forklift operator suffered broken bones, soft tissue damage and a subsequent infection, requiring him to take two months off work.

The passing worker suffered severe bruising and swelling to his right foot and symptoms in his right shoulder from falling as he reflexively tried to move out of the way of the falling tubes.

Deputy President Lieschke found that the incident had “most likely significantly aggravated underlying asymptomatic degeneration” in the worker’s neck and shoulder.

More training needed

SafeWork SA said the company failed to provide enough information, instruction and training to employees as was reasonably necessary to ensure worker safety.

These included a hazard identification and risk assessment for the use of forklifts; a ban on driving forklifts with a raised load; requiring loads contained by straps to be placed on the ground before cutting the straps and requiring workers stand on the forklift side of the safety frame when doing so.

The Company has since implemented these policies and has provided training to all forklift operators.

It had also introduced a traffic management policy to address the hazards of forklifts being used in the workplace and customer access areas.

Deputy President Lieschke said he accepted that the company had taken a number of steps to improve its safety system and that it had cooperated with the regulator, but said the company was aware of the issues with forklifts before the incident occurred.

“As the operator of a hardware business with about 25 employees, [the Company] should have specifically addressed in a thorough and systematic way the hazards arising from use of its forklift trucks,” he said.

“Its reliance on a limited informal verbal instruction was foreseeably inadequate to protect operators, and of even less utility to an employee such as [the second injured worker], who was just walking past.”

Deputy President Lieschke reduced the fine by $15,000 for the company’s early guilty plea and also ordered the company pay a victim of crime levy of between $160-$800 as a contribution to the prosecutor’s legal costs.

Future planning

Following the incident, the Company’s management set out to reduce hazards across the workplace – and where hazards could not be removed, to keep risk to a minimum.

For many, that will mean developing a set of guidelines to follow – but who should develop them? Who should they apply to? How will they change – and how do you know what hazards to look out for?

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