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January 2020

Fines increased on appeal

Fines increased on appeal

Steward v Mac Plant Pty Ltd and Mac Farms Pty Ltd (2018)

Facts

Mac Farms Pty Ltd manages six banana farms in Queensland. Around 50% of its employees are backpackers completing their mandatory farm work. Mac Plant Pty Ltd owns and supplies machinery including tractors to the farm operator.

In December 2015, a seasonal worker from the Netherlands was injured on a Tully banana farm after being thrown from the operator’s seat of a tractor. The worker was driving the tractor without supervision when it rolled into a drainage ditch after veering off the farm road. The tractor had the required roll-over protective structure, but did not have a seatbelt.

Judgment

The defendants were charged under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld) as a result of failing to adequately assess workplace hazards, in particular failing to make sure that their tractors were fitted with the proper protective devices – in this case, a seatbelt.

In the first instance, the farm operator was fined $1,000 while the tractor supplier was fined $2,000. On appeal, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland argued that this decision was too lenient. Fines were increased to $10,000 and $35,000 respectively.

Lessons

This case highlights the need for employers, as well as suppliers of equipment, to conduct regular risk assessments of equipment as well as ensuring regular maintenance. Further, employers must ensure all workers have adequate training on all equipment they will be required to use on site.

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