Substantial fines imposed on a labour hire company and host company after a worker was injured on the job has highlighted the health and safety obligations of employers with staff whose first language is not English.

Labour hire company Mondex Group (Mondex) was fined $90,000 and meat processing company EC Throsby Pty Ltd (EC) was fined $15,000 by the NSW District Court after they pleaded guilty to breaching workplace safety laws when a 22-year-old student from Hong Kong was injured while cleaning a meat mincer.

Mr Pang suffered a cut, severed tendon and compound fracture to his left arm with the injuries caused, in part, because Mondex and EC failed to provide instructions to him in his native language.

Two weeks before the incident, EC had disabled a safety switch on the mincer in order to increase production. Despite an electrician expressing concerns about removing the safety feature, EC concluded that there was minimal risk and subsequently provided inadequate instructions to Mr Pang. Mondex was not provided with the instructions.

The Court found that EC (and to a lesser extent, Mondex) had failed to uphold their primary duty of care to ensure the health and safety of workers, for the following reasons:

  • EC failed to notify Mondex of the mincer modifications;
  • Mondex had no procedure requiring EC to notify it of modifications that may require risk assessments;
  • EC created an obvious risk of workers trapping their limbs inside the mincer, and failed to have this risk assessed properly; and
  • Mr Pang was given an induction manual in English and Mandarin, but the standard operating procedures were only in English.

This decision highlights that employers’ health and safety obligations:

  • apply beyond those workers engaged directly as employees, to all workers operating on a business premises (eg in a labour hire situation); and
  • require the implementation of proper systems to ensure that changes which pose new health and safety risks are properly communicated.

Where employers engage non-native English speakers, special care should be taken to ensure safety-related instructions and procedures (drafted in a clear and user-friendly manner) are translated accurately into the necessary language(s).

For especially dangerous tasks, a worker’s understanding should also be confirmed with them verbally in their native language.