“Inadequate” WHS penalty increased seven-fold on appeal

In June this year, a Victorian textiles company was fined $7,000 for breaching work health and safety laws when a subcontractor truck driver was floored by a 185kg bale of wool. In an appeal of that decision earlier this month, the County Court of Victoria increased the penalty to $50,000 when the Office of Public Prosecutions successfully argued that the $7,000 fine was inadequate.

The incident that sparked the proceedings occurred when the truck driver left the cabin of his truck to prepare the trailer of wool bales for unloading in the employer’s warehouse. A forklift operator had already begun unloading the trailer and dislodged a bale that struck the driver, knocking him unconscious. The truck driver spent 2 days in hospital and suffered a head injury and ligament damage to his knee.

The employer was found guilty of failing to ensure that persons other than employees were not exposed to risks to their health and safety.

The OPP argued that the employer had failed to provide delivery drivers with site inductions or safety instructions, and had only given forklift operators verbal safety instructions. The court found that whilst the employer did have a traffic management plan in place, it had failed to ensure that the plan was followed. 

This case presents another reminder to employers about the importance of ensuring that everyone within a workplace understands their work health and safety (WHS) obligations and that Safe Work Method Statements, inductions and regular training sessions are routinely conducted. Written policies and procedures must be current and communicated to all employees, contractors and other visitors to the workplace.

As mentioned in one of our previous blogs - Ah Yes, The Safety Dance: WHS is an Issue for Everyone, WHS planning, training and induction are sometimes viewed as an unnecessary costs that don’t serve the bottom line of a business. However, good WHS policies, procedures and training can save an organisation a lot in the long run - not only will employees be working a in safe environment but employers will save money on lost productivity as a result of employee injuries or illness, enjoy the benefits of lower workers compensation premiums and may avoid WHS convictions and hefty fines.  In short, employers who proactively invest in good WHS systems and training will reap the benefits in the long term. 

Shane Koelmeyer is a leading workplace relations lawyer and Director at Workplace Law. Workplace Law is a specialist law firm providing employers with legal advice, training and representation in all aspects of workplace relations, employment-related matters and WH&S.

02 9256 7500 | sydney@workplacelaw.com.au

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