Mushroom farm fined $130,000 for workplace incident

A family-run Ballandean mushroom farm and its director faced the Warwick Magistrates Court recently in relation to horrific injuries sustained by a worker in 2019.

The wholesale produce business was fined $120,000 and the director $10,000 for exposing individuals to a risk of death or serious injury under Queensland’s Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

The worker had been emptying mushrooms from purpose-built racks in the growing rooms when he turned on the winch system to extract used compost from the racks. The man’s arm was caught up in the system and traumatically amputated below the elbow.

While the worker attempted to remove his left arm, the winch drum re-engaged, and his right arm also became got caught. The winch drum immediately stopped rotating.

Miraculously, the man managed to free himself from the winch and call for help. A truck driver gave emergency first-aid and applied a tourniquet before emergency services took over. He was airlifted to a Brisbane hospital.

A Workplace Health and Safety Queensland investigation found the 30-year-old winch system was a custom-made piece of plant with no identifying make, model or serial number as it was built by family members.

The investigation also found there was no guarding on the winch drum to provide a barrier for workers operating the winch and there were numerous exposed parts of the plant that were nip and entrapment points accessible by workers.

Magistrate Julian Noud described the nature of the injuries suffered by the worker as horrific and that the likelihood of the risk occurring was high, given the dangerous nature of the plant and no guarding.

His Honour stated the potential consequences of the risk were obviously severe and easily identifiable by the defendant. Steps to eliminate, or at least minimise, the risks posed were available and could not be considered complex or burdensome, evidenced by the fact that guarding had since been implemented.

At sentencing, Magistrate Noud took into account the director’s cooperation with the WHSQ investigation, his lack of previous convictions, and good character.

The business was fined $120,000, plus professional and court costs of almost $1,100. The director’s fine was $10,000, plus professional and court costs of almost $600. No convictions were recorded.

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