Missed the train: Employer fined 250k for failing to provide training to work experience student

You have spent time, money and resources to hire the best candidate for the job and you cannot wait for them to get into their role.  Before they start, your new worker needs to be trained, especially in workplace health and safety (WHS).

Employers need to ensure that all workers are trained and understand the WHS policies and procedures. For example, when it comes to working with machinery, workers must be trained to assess the possible risks before, during and after operating machinery and be well versed in the preparing and complying with the Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) applicable to their task. During this training, employers should assess the worker’s competency in the safe use and operation of the machinery and compliance with the SWMS.  If it is found that the worker’s competency does not meet the required standard, they should not operate the machinery.

In our previous blog Ah yes, the safety dance: WHS is an issue for everyone, we highlighted that WHS planning, training and induction are sometimes wrongly viewed as an unnecessary business cost.  However, the District Court of NSW’s decision in SafeWork NSW v Thermal Electric Elements Pty Ltd [2017] NSWDC 62 (24 March 2017) (Thermal Case) demonstrates the true cost when things go wrong and appropriate WHS planning, training and induction is not provided to a particularly vulnerable worker.

In the Thermal Case, the Court found that the Company had not trained, assessed or tested a 17 year old work experience student’s competency before allowing him to operate a brake press machine and left him without supervision.  As a result, the work experience student crushed his left hand which led to the amputation of the tips of two fingers and the loss of fine motor skills.  Needless to say the Court found a number of WHS failures by the Company:

  • The student was only given a “general” induction by a trade qualified toolmaker.  The machinery training was conducted by an unqualified sheet metal fabricator who had only been employed 7.5 weeks.

  • The student was not provided with a step by step procedure for the safe operation or use of the machine including appropriate settings and positioning. 

  • The student‘s competency was not tested before he was allowed to operate the machine.

  • The risk of injury and the risk of the type of injury suffered by the student ranked extremely high on the scale of foreseeability.

This failure by the Company in its safety processes is an essential reminder to employers that proper and detailed training and adequate ongoing supervision is necessary for all workers including vulnerable workers as their risk of injury is heightened by lack of experience.

The Company was penalised $250,000.

WHS training must be taken seriously by employers for all workers especially the vulnerable.  A worker’s competency must be assessed and a qualified person must train and supervise them. By adopting strong WHS policies and procedures, training will (1) ensure that workers will be working a in safe environment, (2) save money on lost productivity arising from absences due to injuries or illness, (3) enjoy the benefits of lower workers compensation premiums and (4) minimise the chances of a WHS prosecution, conviction and hefty fine. 

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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