Comcare has been awarded the largest penalty against an employer over a fatal brake failure incident in 2011.
Authorities said the incident was an example of supervisory weakness, the huge fine is seen as a warning to management.
An article on Fullyloaded.com.au described how a six point maintenance improvement plan in Perth failed to deter a huge fine on the waste handling firm responsible. Lawyers say that this incident should serve as a warning about the outcomes of management oversights.
The waste handling firm was fined $363,000 for breaching federal work health and safety laws in relation to the fatal accident that happened in Perth.
The case revolved around brake and slack adjuster maintenance preceding and following a crash that in February 28 2011.
The penalty was handed down in the Federal Court of Australia in Perth, following proceedings brought by federal work health and safety regulator Comcare.
Due to the risk to the truck driver, Comcare was involved as the company’s insurer.
McCabes lawyers put the fine at approximately 75 per cent on the court’s unofficial scale of seriousness. They also highlighted that this is the first time multiple breaches of Commonwealth work health and safety laws were found against an employer relating to an ongoing risk to health and safety.
According to the post on Fullyloaded.com.au, McCabes principal Maurice Baroni and senior associate Rosemary Patti, in case notes co-written by law graduate Kate Hollings, stated,
“Employers should review their policies in relation to work health and safety to ensure that they have sufficient monitoring systems in place,”
“Specifically, employers should have a routine supervisory system to ensure all employees are fulfilling tasks appropriately and safely.
“In order to comply with their obligations under the work health and safety legislation, employers should also ensure that systems, policies and checklists applicable to safety in the workplace are detailed and completed correctly.”
It goes on to state that despite maintenance records saying the vehicle had been checked, the vehicle examination report found that because the retaining nut on the control arm of the right slack adjuster was loose, and the retaining nut on the control arm of the left slack adjuster was missing, they couldn’t adequately compensate for wear on the brake pads on the front brakes of the truck.
It went on to state that the lawyers left unnoted the fact that a subsequent examination of the truck involved by the Western Australian Department of Transport passed it as roadworthy, despite existing brake defects.
The vehicle was returned to work around March 28th 2011 by the waste handling firm, without the brake defects being detected or corrected.
Although the vehicle was checked twice by the company’s mechanics, the brakes failed to be rectified until Comcare sent an improvement notice on May 13th, 2011.
The judge found that,
“There needed to be a properly thought-out system of supervision, including with respect to brake linings, in place at all material times, and there was not,”
“There needed to be proper adherence to checklists and to have checklists which, perhaps, more fully and systematically identified all the various things that needed to be investigated, and there was not.
“In this case, there was also a need to ensure that a particular mechanic employs was adequately supervised, given that his work had been noted as less than satisfactory and a warning has been given to him previously.”
The company told the court that since the hearing it had made a number of improvements.
Comcare CEO Jennifer Taylor, said the case highlighted the need for employers to implement intensive safety systems, especially where heavy vehicles are concerned. The case is an example of the outcomes of inadequate safety practices. Mr Taylor went on to explain:
“It’s also a reminder that in such cases, Comcare will not just consider the final result.
“We will examine every opportunity a company has had to fix these issues, and we will take appropriate enforcement action.”
Read more at: www.fullyloaded.com.au