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January 2020

No risk assessment ends in worker death

WorkSafe Victoria v Australia Box Recycling Pty Ltd (2016)

Facts

Australian Box Recycling Pty Ltd (Company) conducts a business that recycles cardboard boxes. On 22 August 2014, an employee of the Company was killed when operating a cardboard box-stacking lift cage.

The lift cage was used at the workplace to store boxes for recycling at a later stage. The cage had a metal cable attached to its top to facilitate up and down movements. When the cage was raised, more boxes could be stacked underneath it.

On 22 August 2014, an employee, Stephen Bower, reached underneath the loaded lift cage to remove the metal cross bars supporting the cage to allow the cage to be lowered. The lifting rope snapped and the loaded cage fell on Mr Bower, crushing him to death.

Judgment

The County Court heard evidence that no risk assessment existed for the lift cage, which had been manufactured by the Company itself. There were a number of significant problems with the operation of the lift cage, including:

  • the hoist mechanism had continued to apply tension to the lift cable and the overwind protection cut out bar was not triggered during the lift operation;
  • the hoist itself was incorrectly configured, such that the cut-out safety bar to prevent overwind could never trigger; and
  • no safe operating procedure was in place for the use of the lift cage.

The Court found that there was a risk of serious injury or death every time employees used the lift due to the possibility of the hoist or lift cable failing. In this case, the expert opinion revealed that the wire rope had broken due to tensile overload.

The Court found that it was reasonably practicable for the Company to control the
risk to health and safety by decommissioning the lift, and using the existing method of stacking and storing boxes on pallets. Those pallets could be moved around the workplace via a forklift.

The Company did not attend the trial or enter a plea as it had ceased trading. The
owners of the Company, however, had set up a new business 9 months after the fatality and did not participate in the hearing. Following a jury finding of guilt, the Company was convicted and sentenced to pay a fine of $800,000.

Lessons

Employers should ensure that the plant they provide for use at work is safe. It is important that all plant used in the workplace has undergone a risk assessment, and that safe operating procedures are developed and implemented, and that workers are trained in that process.

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