Failure to respond to WHS risk costs employer $400k

The County Court of Victoria has imposed a $400,000 fine for a work related accident which resulted in the tragic death of a worker.

Whilst investigations into the cause of the worker’s death were not conclusive, it was found that the worker slipped into a hole in a walkway that was left as a result of a grate not being in place.

During the course of the hearing, there was evidence that there had been a number of reports about the grates becoming dislodged and displaced due to ‘excess foaming’. Initially, new plates were laid and bolted to the concrete, but again over time, the grates became ‘dislodged or unsecured’.  There were a number of reports between 2008 and the end 2011 that grates were either missing or displaced on particular walkways.  Judge O’Neill, who heard the matter stated:

“I accept that while not a regular occurrence it occurred on a sufficient number of occasions that it ought to have prompted those responsible for occupational health and safety to take steps to ensure slatted grates were properly secured. As events subsequently showed it was a simple and inexpensive task to secure them to the concrete.”

Judge O’Neill reviewed comparative cases in considering the penalty to be imposed on the employer in the circumstances, noting that an important factor was not only the failure to take action, but the ‘foreseeable potential consequence’ of not taking action to secure the grates, being a potential death.

Judge O’Neill said that but for the early guilty plea of the employer, a $500,000 fine would have been imposed, but in the circumstances, he reduced that to $400,000.

Key point: Failing to take appropriate steps to eliminate known hazards in the workplace will expose employers to risk of penalties for breach of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld).   Where the failure results in an injury to a worker, or tragically their death, this case highlights the likely penalty that may be imposed.

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