An appeal against a $250,000 fine handed down by the Country Court to an industrial equipment company as a result of a workplace death, has resulted in the fine doubling after the Court of Appeals found that the safety breach ‘equated to a very high degree of culpability.’
Coates Hire and Operations Pty Ltd has been fined $500,000 after being convicted of failing to apply safety policies and procedures, which resulted in the death of a 44-year-old Cranbourne South man when an elevating platform rolled from the tray of a truck, tipped over and crushed him.
Two other companies involved in the incident – Redline Towing Salvage Pty Ltd, the original employer of the man who was subcontracted by Coates, and Dandenong Heavy Haulage Pty Ltd – were fined $130,000 and $50,000 respectively in 2010 and did not appeal the decision.
The Court of Appeal states that, given that Coates Hire had two relevant prior convictions, their vigilance with respect to safety should have been doubled. The County Court’s finding that the company had shown ‘disregard for the safety of its workers’ was reaffirmed by the Court of Appeals.
This comes as bittersweet news to Ian Forsyth, WorkSafe’s executive director of health and safety, who is pleased with the outcome of the appeal but laments the highly avoidable situation that led to the fine in the first place.
“The increase in penalty is welcome, but it does not take away from the fact that a preventable death has occurred,” says Forsyth. ”All other employers need to act now to review their own situation, whether or not they use external contractors.”
Forsyth says WorkSafe must deal far too often with preventable workplace safety incidents. Initiatives too avoid these come at little or no cost and can easily save lives in the workplace.
“Dealing with the known and predictable hazards in your workplace or those which exist in your industry has positive outcomes,” says Forsyth. “Not doing so means other workers are exposed to extreme danger and companies can face enormous commercial consequences.”