Melbourne manufacturer convicted and fined after worker dies

Monday, 17 August, 2009

B&D Australia was convicted and fined $300,000 over an incident in 2006 when a man was killed after being struck by a 350 kg, 7 metre-long steel tube that he was lifting with a crane at its Kilsyth factory in Melbourne’s outer east.

The incident triggered a safety improvement program at the factory but WorkSafe Victoria’s Executive Director, John Merritt, challenged employers not to wait for tragedy to strike before meeting safety obligations.

The company retrained employees in the safe use of cranes, developed standard operating procedures that were posted near them and special notebooks were given to workers so they could raise issues with management.

Melbourne County Court Judge Damian Murphy convicted and fined B&D after it pleaded guilty to two Occupational Health and Safety Act charges, relating to the its failure to provide and maintain a safe workplace and failing to properly train, instruct and supervise employees.

WorkSafe’s investigation found the load was suspended by webbing slings hooked over the ends of an axle protruding from each end of the tube. This meant the slings connecting it to the crane’s hook were able to ride up and come off, possibly after hitting an object as it was being moved. Another method, which had been used at B&D in the past, should have been used so the lifting points were closer to the middle of the tube.

Murphy said B&D’s factory was unionised and had an active health and safety committee, but despite issues about lifting methods being raised with the company, no action was taken to prohibit the practice which ultimately killed a person.

Merritt said failing to take action once issues were raised exposed workers, the company and shareholders to unnecessary personal and commercial risk: “Incidents like this are proof that constant vigilance is needed even for what might be considered routine tasks. You don’t have to wait for someone to die, lose an arm, or a near miss before you take action to protect workers, members of the public and the business. When these things happen, it’s not just bad luck or a ‘freak’ accident. In most cases the problem has always been there, but the trap hasn’t been sprung.

“Taking a practical and consistent approach to safety, reviewing every stage of the work process and the potential hazards, consulting the workforce and acting on identified problems makes a difference. This is an ongoing process. It’s not something to do once and say ‘job done’.”

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