A Brisbane steel fabrication company has been fined $50,000 after an incident in October 2020 which left a third-year apprentice boilermaker with serious groin lacerations.
This follows a sentence hearing in the Brisbane Magistrates Court recently.
Employing more than 60 people, the company specialises in metalwork and steel fabrication and has been operating for 50 years. At the relevant time, a third-year apprentice boilermaker had received training on how to use grinders, including where to stand in case of kick-back.
On 6 October 2020, while working at the Northgate facility, the apprentice was cutting the flange off a section of 200mm mild steel universal beam (UB) with a grinder. He then started cleaning mill scale from the end of the UB. He hadn’t been asked to do this but thought it needed to be done for the required finish and used a 7-inch Metabo angle grinder with a wire wheel attachment. The young worker hadn’t done this before while working for the defendant company but had performed similar tasks with a previous employer. He wore a face shield, safety glasses, long sleeve clothing and hearing protection. However, the apprentice wasn’t wearing a leather apron and hadn’t been instructed to wear one.
After about 5 to 10 minutes, the grinder grabbed the steel and ricocheted back towards him. The wire wheel attachment caught in his trousers and embedded in his groin, causing a bad laceration. He was taken to hospital, where the grinder and wire brush attachment were surgically removed, and the laceration mended.
In sentencing, Acting Magistrate Leanne Scoines noted the defendant was being prosecuted under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, which has a primary purpose to protect the health and safety of workers. Acting Magistrate Scoines took into consideration the factors in s 9 of the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992, including the injury and resulting harm to a young man, and specific and general deterrence.
Her Honour noted the young apprentice suffered a serious and gruesome injury and was off work for some time. The injury impacted his lifestyle mentally and physically at the time. Fortunately, the victim suffers no long-term permanent physical impacts and does not require any ongoing treatment. He suffered no financial loss and successfully completed his apprenticeship with the defendant company.
In relation to general deterrence, Acting Magistrate Scoines said the Court must reiterate how seriously workers’ safety should be taken. Protecting health and safety requires diligence and constant vigilance by employers. Her Honour noted the company had a good standing, and had been in the industry for 50 years, with no prior incidents. In that time, it employed numerous staff, including apprentices. She said that while several measures were taken to promote safety, they fell short of what was required to ensure the victim’s safety on the incident date.
Her Honour acknowledged the breaches have largely been rectified and took into consideration the defendant’s post-incident measures, cooperation with the Workplace Health Safety Queensland investigation, its demonstrated remorse and an early guilty plea.
Acting Magistrate Scoines did not record a conviction, noting the company’s antecedents, including its long history. Her Honour said the defendant takes its responsibilities seriously and accepts its role in the injury. She concluded the likelihood of reoccurrence was low and recording a conviction would not be in the public interest.
The defendant company was fined $50,000 and ordered to pay court and professional costs of almost $1,600.
Work health and safety prosecution summaries in Queensland are published at www.owhsp.qld.gov.au