A recent case in the NSW District Court is a reminder that failing to maintain a safe system of work can have costly consequences. The case highlighted the importance of making provision for safe physical locations to undertake high-risk work and to also ensure that any new worker does not attempt work for which they are not qualified.
South Coast Under Road Borers Pty Ltd (company), located in Termeil NSW, conducts a business as a provider of specialist underground directional drilling, vacuum extraction, trenching and related services in the construction industry.
On 23 October 2017, a heavy rigid truck was parked on uneven, soft and sloping soil at the premises for unloading and cleaning when a defect was noticed that required immediate repair. While one worker left the premises to get spare parts and another went to perform separate work, a newly employed mechanic remained at the premises and decided to undertake repairs on the truck in its present location. After setting up the vehicle with a jack, the truck began moving backwards, displacing the jack that was supporting it and causing the mechanic to become pinned between the jack, the truck’s undercarriage and the ground. The mechanic sustained fatal injuries to his chest and abdomen.
What was the verdict?
The company pleaded guilty to a breach of its duty of care.
The Court heard that while the company had substantial systems in place for the directional drilling work conducted offsite, there was an inadequate system in place for the servicing of its heavy vehicles on the site. The company generally outsourced the servicing of trucks and anticipated that formal procedures would be adopted when a servicing facility, which was being constructed at the premises, was completed. The Court heard that at the time of the incident the mechanic was not qualified to safely work on the heavy vehicles and the other workers were not aware that he was going to undertake the repairs alone.
The company admitted that there was a lack of specific training, procedures and direction given to mechanic as a new employee. The company acknowledged that it was not sufficient for the company to place reliance on the mechanic skills, particularly in circumstances where he did not have the required level of prior experience and adequate qualifications required to safely work on the heavy vehicles maintained by the company. As a consequence, the mechanic was working alone on the truck that was parked on sloping ground, unsecured without wheel chocks, and using a trolley jack that was not appropriate for servicing the truck.
The Judge considered that at the time of the incident, the company should have had all its heavy vehicles serviced by a competent third party until the workshop was completed and adequate procedures were put in place for the maintenance work to be performed on site.
The company was convicted to pay a fine of $375,000, following a 25% reduction for entering a guilty plea. The company was also ordered to pay the prosecutor’s costs.
What’s the key takeaway?
This case shows the importance of implementing a proper safety system of work, and identifying and managing any foreseeable risks. The company failed to ensure that the heavy vehicle was moved to a safe location to undertake repairs and generally did not have a sufficient system for onsite maintenance of its heavy vehicles, which led to the fatal incident.