Huge fines imposed on major macadamia nut grower

One of the world’s largest macadamia producers has been fined more than $400,000 over a series of work safety breaches which left workers with serious injuries, including an injury which resulted in a forearm amputation.

Saratoga Holdings Pty Ltd, which operates several plantations in the Bundaberg region, recently pleaded guilty to four breaches of Queensland’s Work Health and Safety Act 2011 for failing to ensure worker safety and for not immediately reporting a notifiable incident to Workplace Health and Safety Queensland.

The Bundaberg Magistrates Court heard the company hired UK backpackers as casual workers and that all the incidents occurred in 2018. In the most serious incident, an ATV and a tractor fitted with a bladed skirter collided and a worker contacted with the rotating blades of the skirter which resulted in him losing his left forearm.

The WHSQ investigation found the company had no clear exclusion zone around the skirter. Machinery in use warnings were not placed at all work entrances, and, while the worker was inducted by the defendant, he did not watch the instructional DVD on quad bikes or complete its questionnaire. The defendant also failed to identify the hazard of the skirter’s moving blades and the risk of collision with its blades.

Another safety breach involved a woodchipper removing branches from trees and chipping them. The woodchipper was fitted to the front of a tractor and workers told to walk down rows of macadamia trees, pick up tree limbs and feed them into the woodchipper, as the tractor and chipper combination was slowly moving towards them.

It was found Saratoga Holdings did not do a risk assessment for the woodchipper task. While workers were shown an induction video, it depicted the woodchipper while stationary with a worker feeding logs into it, which was not how the woodchipper was operated in practice.

And in a separate incident, a worker suffered cuts to his fingers and tendons while changing the blades of a woodchipper. That WHSQ investigation revealed the defendant’s ‘Woodchipper Operating Procedure’ did not include a procedure for changing blades. A torque wrench could have been used to safely tighten the nuts, but the worker was not instructed to change the blades using a torque wrench and had not been provided with any other formal training for this task.

A ‘Hazard incident/injury report form’ outlining the injury was prepared, and while the company knew the notifiable incident had occurred, it did not report it.

In sentencing, Magistrate Trinity McGarvie took into account the defendant’s guilty pleas and that considerable steps had been taken by the company, including engaging a new health and safety manager, to comprehensively review its health and safety procedures. However, Her Honour noted that in 2014, the defendant was fined $35,000 over an incident in which a worker was operating an auger, and had been given no instruction in the task. His hand was amputated.

Magistrate McGarvie said companies needed to be aware of the health and welfare of employees and that the steps required to protect workers were simple and reasonable. Workers should not be left ill-trained, ill-equipped and at risk of serious injury or death.

A conviction was recorded and Saratoga Holdings was fined a total of $410,000 for the four offences, plus court costs of almost $1,600.

Work health and safety prosecution summaries in Queensland are published at www.owhsp.qld.gov.au

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