Produce company fined $300,000 for unsafe systems of work
Zerella Holdings Pty Ltd, a fresh produce business, has been convicted and fined $300,000 by the South Australian Employment Tribunal (SAET) after a worker was dragged into a water pit with a moving agitator in October 2017, resulting in serious and ongoing impairment.
The male worker was injured while attempting to clean a sump pump which had been raised from a potato wash pit. As he leant over, his clothing was caught in an unguarded rotating agitator shaft, dragging him into the pit and spinning him around the agitator shaft. The clothing on his upper body was torn off; he was then thrown onto a platform within the pit, thereby avoiding falling into the water below.
SafeWork SA investigations revealed that there was no safe operating procedure for the plant and equipment, particularly for the maintenance of the sump pump. The defendant also failed to have adequate training and appropriate supervision in place.
Zerella Holdings pleaded guilty to breaching section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA), breaching its duty to ensure the safety of workers whilst at work, thereby exposing them to the risk of serious injury or death.
The offence carried a maximum penalty of $1,500,000. However, Zerella was issued a fine of $210,000 ($300,000 before applying a 30% discount for an early guilty plea), plus costs.
The company failed to maintain the plant, including guards around the rotating PTO shaft. The company also neglected to use a safe system of work to minimise the risk of injury, and to prepare a safe operating procedure that related to the plant and tasks. Zerella also failed to provide adequate supervision when performing the task.
SafeWork SA Executive Director Martyn Campbell said there should always be a priority to focus on critical controls and have safe systems in place, including training, procedures and supervision.
“This is an example of a business taking shortcuts in an attempt to be more efficient, which involved a clear risk of serious injury or death to workers completing the task,” said Campbell.
During sentencing, Deputy President Magistrate Cole accepted that the defendant had taken extensive remedial steps and implemented a full review of its safety measures.
“The defendant has learnt its lesson and is unlikely to reoffend. The penalty in this case needs to reinforce the importance of the defendant not breaching work health and safety requirements in the future,” said Magistrate Cole.
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