A North Queensland diesel mechanical repair and sugar cane harvesting business has been fined $150,000 following a 2017 incident in which a worker was crushed to death trying to fix a cane haul-out vehicle. On 7 October 2017, three workers, including a company director, were harvesting cane at a Mowbray farm, when one of the cane haul-out machines developed a hydraulic line leak. The director, believing a hose simply needed tightening, instructed the driver to fix the fitting in the assembly area around 500 m away. The man did the repair alone, but 20 minutes later, a colleague discovered he had been crushed beneath the haul-out vehicle and a stationary bulk fuel trailer. The driver had attempted to fix the problem without turning off the machine and was crushed to death.
The defendant company had a system for field repairs such as this one. Normally one of its mechanics would be called in to do the job. However, on this occasion this process was not followed, as the director believed the easy fix could have been done by the driver. To protect staff, the company should have had a prohibition on workers doing field repairs single-handedly (in compliance with the operator manual for the vehicle and the Rural Plant COP). The company should have also instructed workers on the appropriate system for field maintenance. In this instance, the duty holder failed to comply with the primary safety duty and exposed a worker to a risk of serious injury or death.
In sentencing, Magistrate Joseph Pinder noted that the company directors, one of whom had diesel mechanic qualifications, had previously told the driver not to work on a machine when it was operating, though this instruction had not been given on the day of the incident. Magistrate Pinder considered the company’s cooperation in the investigation by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland, an early guilty plea and remorse expressed by the directors. The company does not have any prior work health and safety convictions. The company was fined $150,000 plus court costs of just under $1100. No conviction was recorded.
Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Johan Larson