The safety of workers on the job is one that is taken very seriously, with companies believed to not be taking all the necessary steps to create a safe working environment usually hit hard. That was very much the case recently, when the County Court of Victoria imposed a $400,000 fine after a worker was tragically killed while at work. While the investigation into the accident did not produce any conclusive answers, the court felt there was enough there to indicate that occupational health and safety (OHS) standards had not been met.
What is believed to have happened was that the worker slipped into a hole in a walkway after a grate being used to cover it was not properly replaced. The court listened to evidence from eye witnesses who reported seeing the grates come loose due to, what they called, “excessive foaming.” It was revealed that steps had been taken to meet OHS sunshine Coast standards, which included laying and bolting new plates directly into the concrete. Those plates did not stay that way long, though, as there were also reports of those becoming dislodged or not properly secured.
The reports concerning the issues with the grates came in consistently between 2008 and 2011. It was perhaps these reports that helped sway Judge O’Neill after he heard the case. He believed that while the issues with the grates were not necessarily a regular occurrence, the problems were sufficient enough that the occupational health and safety people in charge of the grates should have made sure that they were properly secured. To make matters worse, the Judge said that the previous attempts to rectify the situation showed that it was something that could be done both quickly and inexpensively.
Judge O’Neill also said that he came by the penalty after reviewing a number of similar cases. What he took into consideration was that the employer not only didn’t take the necessary action, they also failed to take heed of the “foreseeable potential consequence” of not replacing the grates, which in this case, regrettably, was death. The employer was spared somewhat, as the Judge said that the penalty would have come in at $500,000 were it not for the fact that the employer actually pleaded guilty very early in the proceedings.
This should be a lesson learned for those companies that think they can do the very bare minimum in terms if OHS Sunshine Coast. Failure to act in a responsible manner and take action to deal with potential safety issues will result in them being in breach of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld). As this case has shown, that can be an incredibly expensive mistake to make. It can also be one that leads to injuries or death that could easily have been avoided with a little bit of due diligence.