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January 2020

Failure to follow industry code of practice

WorkSafe Western Australia v Paspaley Pearling Company Pty Ltd (2015)

As part of a pearling operation, workers of Paspaley Pearling Company Pty Ltd (Paspaley) collected pearls from the ocean floor in a specialised form of diving, known as drift diving. This required the workers to dive underwater for up to 45 minutes at a time.

During a diving operation near Broome, WA, one of Paspaley’s workers emerged unconscious from a dive and was unable to be revived.

Judgment

The Court found that a series of missteps resulted in the diver’s retrieval taking longer than it should have, including:

  • retrievers not having fins to speed up the retrieval from the water; and
  • attempting to return the unconscious worker to the boat by a ladder.

At the time of the incident, Paspaley did not have a written emergency procedure for the rescue and retrieval of an incapacitated drift diver from the water to the vessel, and workers did not perform regular rescue drills.

However, best practice was set out in a Pearl Diving Industry Code of Practice, which provides that:

  • all personnel be trained and practised in signalling systems, emergency and rescue procedures in a working environment;
  • diving emergency drills be practised at least twice a year; and
  • the business should ensure that dive emergency procedures cover the search, recovery and retrieval of injured divers.

After the incident, Paspaley put such a procedure in place.

Paspaley pleaded guilty and was fined $60,000 for failing to provide and maintain a working environment in which its workers were not exposed to hazards.

Lessons

This decision highlights the need for you to have written emergency procedures for any foreseeable risks in the workplace in order to comply with your work health and safety duty.

Emergency procedures should include the roles that staff are to fulfil in an emergency. Drills (i.e. practice runs of the emergency procedure) should be conducted regularly.

The decision should also serve as a reminder that industry codes of practice are a valuable resource to assist you to comply with your work health and safety obligations.

 

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