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October 2021

Picker dies on second day at work

Picker dies on second day at work

The Case

WHSQ v M and L Zabala Investments (2021)

On 31 October 2017, a 27-year-old backpacker was performing picking work on a farm in North Queensland when he collapsed and died from organ failure caused by heat-related stress after a 7-hour shift in temperatures as high as 40 degrees Celsius.

At the date of the incident, it was the backpacker’s second day at the farm.

The Verdict

The Court found that the company that operated the farm did not implement appropriate measures to reduce the risks posed by heat and direct sun exposure. Possible risk control measures that the company could have implemented included:

  • providing shaded areas for rest;
  • assessing the thermal risk;
  • training workers on heat stress management; and
  • moving picking to cooler times of the day.

The company pleaded guilty to breaching section 20 and section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld) in failing to comply with its health and safety duties. It was convicted and ordered to pay a fine of $100,000, following a reduction for entering a guilty plea.

The Lessons

Employers must be vigilant in ensuring safety at their workplaces by implementing and training workers on the required procedures and safety precautions. In this case, the risk of heat stroke was a foreseeable risk, and the company did not have a proper safe system of work or appropriate training to control that risk.

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