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November 2020

Poor fleet maintenance and lack of training result in driver’s death

Poor fleet maintenance and lack of training result in driver’s death

The Case

WorkSafe v Valley Sweep Pty Ltd (2020)

In April 2017, Valley Sweep Pty Ltd, a provider of trucks and machinery used for road construction, hired a water cart truck to another company.

A 21-year-old employee of Valley Sweep was employed to drive the water cart truck and spray water on road works.

On 15 May 2017, the driver was driving a loaded water cart truck down a steep, curved section of a road at 60km per hour when it rolled onto the passenger side. The employee was killed in the accident.

The truck had not been serviced by an external mechanic since December 2015. Valley Sweep Director Mr Anton Zakic and another employee had performed some maintenance on the truck (and other vehicles in the fleet). Neither were qualified mechanics.

An engineer found the cause of the crash was due to the poor condition of the truck’s brakes, including the brakes being improperly adjusted.

The driver had no experience driving a water cart truck and did not receive training on how to drive the truck in difficult conditions. The driver’s training was limited to some on-the-job training from Mr Zakic. It was particularly important that the driver receive formal training due to the unique handling characteristics of the truck.

The Judgment

Valley Sweep pleaded guilty to breaching sections 21(1) and 21(2)(a) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic) by failing to provide a safe working environment and maintaining equipment so that it is, as far as reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health.

Mr Zakic pleaded guilty to breaching section 144 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic) by failing to take reasonable care.

The Latrobe Valley Magistrates’ Court imposed the maximum available fines to both Valley Sweep and Mr Zakic, finding their failures ultimately cost the life of the driver.

Valley Sweep and Mr Zakic were, with conviction, sentenced to pay a fine of $388,650 and $77,730 respectively. This was reduced from the maximum penalty for a guilty plea and the jurisdictional limit of the Magistrates’ Court.

The Lessons

Company vehicles and machinery must be regularly serviced and maintained by suitably qualified persons. Essential components, such as brakes and tyres, should be checked prior to operation.

All employees must receive adequate training and supervision on the operation of all vehicles and machinery, particularly those that have unique operating characteristics.

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