The Magistrates Court of South Australia has ordered an employer to pay a fine of $56,000, for failing to ensure the safety of an employee who suffered a serious injury to his leg, as a result of the employer’s “ad hoc” and “poorly managed” safety systems.

This case reiterates the importance of employers implementing specific, clear and relevant OHS policies, which do more than merely restating “the goal of maintaining a safe workplace”. In doing so, employers should turn their minds to the specific risks of injury their business operations create for their employees, and how those risks can be minimised.

Background

Trevarno Pty Ltd (“Trevarno”) operated a business focussed on abrasive blasting of various large steel products. It designed and manufactured the trolleys it used as part of its industrial production process, however:

  • did not carry out any hazard identification or risk assessment of their use; and
  • had no formal policy or procedure about the safe use of the trolleys.

Alexander May was a casual employee of Trevarno, who performed abrasive blasting duties. His training was “informal and undocumented”. Mr May suffered a serious crush injury to his right leg when a 1300kg steel pipe rolled off a flatbed trolley onto him. He was off work for approximately six months until he was able to return on a part-time basis, and the following month he returned on full time duties.

Upon inspection of the premises, SafeWork South Australia (“SafeWork”) issued Prohibition and Improvement Notices regarding the use of the trolleys and the task of turning pipes. Trevarno implemented the required actions as well as a number of other associated changes.

Following an investigation by SafeWork, Trevarno was charged with a breach of section 19(1) of the Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare Act 1986 (SA), i.e. failing to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, the safety of Mr May while he worked on the pipe.

Decision

Magistrate SM Lieschke acknowledged that Trevarno:

  • intended to have a safe workplace and made some attempts to manage safety issues;
  • responded “appropriately to the SafeWork Notices and implemented compliant practices with respect to this work task”; and
  • offered moral support to Mr May and facilitated his return to work.

However, Magistrate SM Lieschke found that Trevarno:

  • had a “general” OHS policy which was little more than a “restatement of the goal of maintaining a safe workplace”;
  • failed to “appreciate and systematically deal with the risks of injury its business operations created for its employees”;
  • had no “relevant written or clear verbal policies about how to minimise the foreseeable risk of injury from pipes rolling off flat-bed trolleys, or from trolleys over balancing and discharging their load”; and
  • provided no financial support to Mr May during the period he was receiving a reduced income.

Having regard to all the above circumstances, Magistrate SM Lieschke ordered Trevarno to pay:

  • a fine of $56,000 (out of a maximum $300,000 penalty for companies with no prior offences), having discounted the fine by 20% for Trevarno’s “early acceptance of responsibility and for the limited support it provided for Mr May”; and
  • an additional $1,167 for the court filing fee, legal costs and Victims of Crime Levy.