Best Benchtop and Stone Pty Ltd was sentenced in the County Court on Wednesday after earlier pleading guilty to two charges of failing to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, that its workplace was safe and without risks to health.
It is the second significant penalty imposed today after the death of workers unloading stone slabs from shipping containers, with a fine of $475,000 imposed in an earlier matter in the County Court.
The court heard that in February 2020, the director of Best Benchtop and a worker assisting the company were unloading a shipping container which contained seven packs of 15 slabs, with each slab weighing 220kg.
The worker was inside the shipping container to separate each slab and attach a clamp, which was fitted to a lifting attachment on a forklift. The director was using the forklift to move individual slabs out of the container.
During this process, the director heard the worker call out for him. He found the worker pinned to the container wall by about 30 fallen slabs.
Workers and emergency services were unable to shift the slabs and the worker died at the scene.
The court found that it was reasonably practicable for Best Benchtop to reduce the risk of slabs falling by moving complete packs using either a mobile crane or forklift with a container mast, fitted with stone handling attachments, instead of moving them individually.
It also found that it was reasonably practicable for the company to have used temporary restraints such as support frames, chains and straps to prevent any unintended movement of slabs during the unloading process.
WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said the fatal consequences of failing to implement risk control measures when unpacking containers had been witnessed too many times before.
“This is the second company we’ve prosecuted just this week where a worker was fatally crushed by stone slabs while unpacking a shipping container load,” Dr Beer said.
“We don’t want to see any more families endure the pain of losing a loved one because of incidents that could have easily been prevented if employers had taken seriously their responsibility to do everything reasonably possible to keep their workers safe.”
To manage risks when unloading containers:
- Consult with the supplier on the best shipping configuration for ease and safety of unloading.
- Have a system of work for safe unloading that includes assessing if the load can be safely unloaded and the sequence of unloading.
- Ensure the container is sitting level to reduce the risk of panels, slabs or other objects becoming unstable and toppling and check the outside for damage that may indicate content has shifted.
- Before opening or releasing transport restraints, consider if the use of a container door safety strap or equipment to prop or support contents that may have shifted is needed to prevent toppling.
- Ensure that no one is in the fall shadow of any object at any time and use equipment to minimise workers’ interaction with contents.
- Ensure that any engineering controls, for example additional load restraints, are introduced from outside the fall shadow.
- Ensure that lifting gear, such as shackles, cables and clamps, is regularly checked by a competent or licensed person in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions.
- Ensure any forklift being used has the appropriate load rating for all fitted attachments and is being used as intended.