A recent ruling in the Maryborough Magistrates Court has reaffirmed that employers must provide young workers with appropriate training and not direct them to perform work above their skills and ability.
On 28 June, a North Burnett meat processing company was fined $90,000 for an incident which occurred at its Biggenden abattoir almost two years ago when an inexperienced teenager lost his left index and middle fingers. The 17 year old was removing hocks off large pigs using a single-handed hock cutter when his fingers were trapped in the cutter and amputated.
The company had been charged with an offence under s 32 of the Work Health and Safety 2011 Act for not providing adequate training to the teenager and assigning him work which was beyond his capabilities. At the time of the sentence, the defendant had been dealt with for a breach that occurred on 21 February 2017 when another worker tragically died at the same meatworks.
In making his decision on the non-fatal incident of 29 June 2017, Magistrate Barry Barrett took into account an early plea, the defendant’s cooperation with the investigation by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland and its admissions of failing to adequately address the hazard and identify the inherent risk; the lack of supervision and training; and a failure to provide a safe system of work.
Magistrate Barrett also noted the company gave immediate support to the victim and his family and rectified the machinery straight after the incident. His Honour acknowledged the defendant had been implementing injury strategies for the last two years and is classed as a good corporate citizen, providing employment in a small town whilst contributing to community organisations and fundraising.
However, his Honour was critical of the lack of training given to the injured worker and that the teenager was pressured to perform duties above his skill set, noting young people are more vulnerable to authority and in the workplace generally.
No conviction was recorded, with the meat processing company fined $90,000, plus costs.
More information on industrial prosecutions is at worksafe.qld.gov.au.