A well-established business which supplies resources, including books and stationery, to schools Australia-wide has been fined $70,000 after a forklift incident in February last year.
The defendant company pleaded guilty in the Holland Park Magistrates Court yesterday to breaching Queensland’s Work Health and Safety Act 2011 failing in its duty to ensure the health and safety of workers. The court ruled that failure exposed an individual to a risk of death or serious injury.
On 9 February 2021, a 27-year-old employed by the company in its warehouse dispatch area suffered a serious head injury. He was operating a forklift and loading empty pallets onto a racking system when the unsecured pallets (each weighing around 35 kilograms) fell from a height of almost 6m. At least one pallet struck him in the head, which resulted in a fractured skull. Following surgery, the man was hospitalised over a week and unable to work for an extended period.
Having worked casually for the defendant for around three months (during the busy ‘return to school’ period), the man was alone in the warehouse at the time. He held an appropriate licence, but the defendant had not done a risk assessment for using a forklift and there was no safe operating procedure for it, or for the use of it to move and store pallets on a racking system. The court heard there were risks peculiar to the site and the stacking/storing task such as how many pallets could be lifted at one time, that the load should be secured if it extended above the fork arm backrest, or how to safely store the pallets in the racking.
Post-incident, the company introduced a safe operating procedure for the storage of items in the pallet racking. The defendant company accepted there were steps which, in all the circumstances were reasonably practicable, and, if taken, would have reduced the risk. The defendant also acknowledged it exposed workers to a risk of death or serious injury as a result of its failure to comply with its duty, and the serious injuries sustained by its employee were a manifestation of the risk.
In sentencing, Acting Magistrate Sue Ganasan took into account an early guilty plea, the defendant had no prior WHS convictions, and it was a family-owned company which co-operated with the investigation, showed remorse and continued to support and employ the injured man. Acting Magistrate Ganasan accepted the risk existed for the entire charged period of three months, and that whilst there was a system in place at the time in relation to ensuring stock was wrapped and secured when stored at height, there was no similar system in relation to empty pallets. However, she noted steps had been taken since the incident.
Her Honour had regard to the need for general deterrence, accepting it was an important feature, ultimately fining the company $70,000, plus court costs of $1,600. No conviction was recorded.
Work health and safety prosecution summaries in Queensland are published at www.owhsp.qld.gov.au