Australia Rong Hua Fu Pty Ltd, trading as RHF Stone, was sentenced today in the County Court after pleading guilty last month to three charges of failing to, as far as was reasonably practicable, provide or maintain a safe working environment.
The court heard a 34-year-old worker sustained fatal injuries after three stone slabs – each weighing up to 250 kilograms – pinned her against the interior wall of a shipping container she was helping unload.
The worker had used a screwdriver to separate the slabs before inserting a wedge in the gaps so the slabs could be gripped by a clamp attached to a forklift.
As she hit the wedge into the opening, the unrestrained slabs toppled and crushed her.
The court heard RHF Stone had no formal procedure on how to unload slabs.
The company should have had systems in place to ensure slabs were stored at the correct angle, workers remained outside the fall zone of the slabs at all times, and temporary restraints were used to limit the movement of slabs during unloading.
WorkSafe’s investigation also identified multiple safety failings with a forklift being used at the time of incident.
The forklift was not rated for use with the attachments it had been fitted with, had had makeshift counterweights added to increase its capacity and was not within its safe working load when a boom extension was in use. Furthermore, the boom extension had been fitted in an unsafe manner. Finally, a spring-activated safety feature on the clamp attached to the forklift – designed to assist with gripping the slabs – had also been replaced with rubber bands.
The court heard storage racks used to house the slabs inside the warehouse were also unsafe.
The steel racks were not load rated and, to increase capacity, some of the horizontal arms slabs were placed on had been extended using wooden blocks that were not secured to the floor, creating the risk of inadvertent movement.
WorkSafe Executive Director Health and Safety Narelle Beer said the worker’s death would have been prevented if safe systems of work had been followed.
“Put simply, this tragic event should never have occurred,” Dr Beer said.
“Regardless of the industry, all employers must ensure hazards at their workplace are identified so that the risks to health and safety can be assessed and eliminated or reduced.
“WorkSafe will not hesitate to prosecute those who fail to take their duty to create a safe work environment seriously.”
To manage risks when unloading containers:
- Consult with the supplier on the best shipping configuration for ease and safety of unloading.
- Have a system of work for safe unloading that includes assessing if the load can be safely unloaded and the sequence of unloading.
- Ensure the container is sitting level to reduce the risk of panels, slabs or other objects becoming unstable and toppling and check the outside for damage that may indicate content has shifted.
- Before opening or releasing transport restraints, consider if the use of a container door safety strap or equipment to prop or support contents that may have shifted is needed to prevent toppling.
- Ensure that no one is in the fall shadow of any object at any time and use equipment to minimise workers’ interaction with contents.
- Ensure that any engineering controls, for example additional load restraints, are introduced from outside the fall shadow.
- Ensure that lifting gear, such as shackles, cables and clamps, is regularly checked by a competent or licensed person in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions.
- Ensure any forklift being used has the appropriate load rating for all fitted attachments and is being used as intended.