WorkSafe Victoria v Midfield Meat International Pty Ltd (2021)
Midfield Meat International Pty Ltd (company) is a meat processing company that operates an abattoir with employees and labour hire workers.
Within the workplace, there was a load-out area used for packing and unpacking stock from a conveyor belt. This area was located near a forklift operating zone. When there was not enough room in the load-out area, it was common for employees to unload stock in the forklift operating zone.
In March 2019, one worker entered the forklift operating zone to place cardboard sheets against the wall, which workers had done on several occasions for the sake of convenience. When the worker was placing the cardboard sheet against the wall, he was hit by a reversing forklift. Neither the forklift driver nor the worker could see each other. The forklift struck the worker and crushed his lower legs. After receiving medical treatment, he suffered ongoing nerve damage to his lower legs.
The Court heard that the investigation revealed workers frequently entered the forklift operating zone, and that there was a foreseeable risk of collision between pedestrians and forklifts. The company had a traffic management plan in place at the time of the incident and each worker had been assessed as competent in understanding this plan. However, the investigation revealed that the traffic management plan was deficient, as employees were still exposed to the risk of a collision.
The Court heard that following the incident, and in response to an Improvement Notice, the company created a revised safety procedure for the load-out area and the forklift operating zone. This new procedure included physical barriers preventing entry into the load-out area by forklifts. The improvement notice was subsequently deemed to be complied with.
The company was charged under section 23(1) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic), and was fined $90,000 and ordered to pay costs of $2,000.
The Court acknowledged the following factors when sentencing:
- the company pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity, immediately notified WorkSafe of the incident and cooperated with the investigation;
- the injured worker had recovered from his injuries and returned to work for the company;
- the company retrained its staff in relation to the load-out area under the new procedure; and
- the company was generally a good corporate citizen in that it had contributed significantly to the local community.
However, the company had four prior offences and the court therefore noted the need to apply specific deterrence.
The implementation of an effective traffic management system requires monitoring to ensure it is not being breached and that there are not deficiencies. Workers should not be relied upon solely to follow the rules – they must be supervised.