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January 2020

Hefty fine for business that failed to implement a safe operating procedure

Hefty fine for business that failed to implement a safe operating procedure

WorkSafe Victoria v Covino Farms Pty Ltd (2017)

Facts

Covino Farms Pty Ltd (the Company) operated a vegetable growing business that used a tractor to plant seeds. In addition to operating the tractor, an employee was also required to check if the seeds were planted properly. On 31 January 2015, an employee slowed the tractor to 3kph, put it into low gear and stepped down from the moving tractor to check on the seeds. In the process, the employee fell to the ground and was run over by the seeder attached to the tractor. They sustained a dislocated neck, fractured ribs and a fractured cheek bone.

Judgment

The Court considered the systems of work in place at the time of the incident. In particular, after considering the manner in which the tractor operated and the employee’s required task of checking the planting, the Magistrate concluded there was a foreseeable risk of death or serious injury to employees. The Court concluded that it was reasonably practicable for the employee to reduce this risk by developing a safe operating procedure for the use of tractors. The Magistrate stated this safe operating procedure should prohibit disembarking from moving tractors. The Company was fined $70,000 and ordered to pay costs of $22,933.12.

Lessons

Companies must ensure they have safe operating procedures for all work activities. In cases where the system of work exposes a worker to an unnecessary risk to their health and safety, the process should be modified. A failure to take these steps will result in significant penalties.

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