WorkSafe Victoria v Thiess Services Pty Ltd (2015)
Thiess Services Pty Ltd was charged following a breach of the Occupational Health & Safety Act 2004 (Vic) (OHS Act) after an overloaded barge capsized on the Patterson River in Victoria. The barge collapsed after it was loaded with a 13-tonne excavator despite only being designed to carry 5 tonnes.
The jury heard that NSW Maritime had carried out a stability assessment of the barge in 2010 and expressed concerns about the stability of the excavator.
NSW Maritime issued a Certificate of Survey for the barge. A Certificate of Survey certifies that a vessel meets specified standards for construction stability and safety equipment, sometimes with guidelines for compliance. In this case, NSW Maritime issued a guideline that Thiess operate the barge in accordance with the loading conditions in a NSW Maritime approved stability book.
However, the barge was repeatedly used without the book until the overloading incident occurred in 2012.
The Victorian County Court fined Thiess Services $600,000 for breaches of the OHS Act, which was divided as follows:
- a fine of $250,000 for failing to provide and maintain a working environment that was safe and without risks to health; and
- a fine of $350,000 for failing to ensure that people other than its employees were not exposed to health or safety risks arising from its undertaking.
This case demonstrates the seriousness of failing to follow safety guidelines or recommendations issued by third-party experts or regulators (in this case, NSW Maritime’s guideline). Thiess’s failure to follow this guideline resulted in a failure to comply with its general duty of care under health and safety legislation.
The case shows that you must be vigilant in ensuring that safe guidelines and practices are followed whenever possible.