A large, well-known transport company has been hit with a $90,000 fine after an employee’s head was crushed between the load of a forklift and a shipping container. The horrific workplace accident happened in 2011.
An article on popular trucking website Fullyloaded.com.au highlighted the factors that led to the serious injuring of Darren Southam at a distribution centre in NSW.
In the article it was mentioned that the company breached workplace safety laws, resulting in the injury. The employee was unloading freight from a shipping container at the time. While inside a container at the same time as a forklift, the forklift collided with the man, causing his head to be crushed between the load on the forklift and the inside wall of the container.
The man’s injuries were severe, including facial fractures, a fractured jaw, nerve and teeth damage as well as facial lacerations.
In the Federal Court, Judge Geoffrey Flick found that the company responsible failed to take the necessary steps to protect the employee’s health and safety, as federal OHS laws mandate. The company also failed to conduct a hazard investigation or risk assessment in relation to the work being carried out.
The judge said that the company should have stopped workers from entering shipping containers at the same time as forklifts were unloading freight. The company should have provided proper training and instruction to employees relating to the correct operating procedures. They should also have supervised employees while freight was being unloaded to ensure the proper procedures were being followed.
Judge Flick stated:
“No formal hazard identification or risk assessment had been conducted by [the transport company] into the task of emptying the [consignors’s] containers prior to the accident,” Flick says.
The company failed to address a completely preventable accident according to Judge Flick. A supervisor was aware of the fact that workers were entering shipping containers to help forklift drivers unload pallets but failed to do anything about it. The judge went on to state:
“The unloading of pallets from the [consignors’s] containers…gave rise to difficulties different to the unloading of containers from other suppliers and an increased risk to the safety of employees,”
“The [consignors’s] containers, for example, were loaded in a manner which made the pallets difficult to lift and remove without damaging the product.”
Since the accident the company carried out a risk assessment and banned employees from entering containers while forklifts are operating inside, but for this employee it was too late.
As Comcare Acting General Manager of Regulatory operations Paul Orwin warned following the case, companies involved in high-risk operations such as those in the road freight industry are, should ensure that appropriate health and safety systems in place, which this company failed to do in time to avoid disaster. The company involved was fortunate to avoid the maximum penalty of $242,000.
“There is a serious risk of injury or death when performing work of this nature,” Orwin says.
“Employers need to undertake the appropriate risk assessments to ensure employees carrying out these duties understand the requirements and are safe.”
Companies that fail to comply with the law should be ready to receive similar treatment as the company mentioned above and worse.
For road freight companies, it is crucial that everyone involved in the supply chain is aware of what is required of them and how to comply with the law in order to avoid fines like this one.
To find out more about the Chain of Responsibility and each employee’s part in it click here.