Landmark fine for employer who repeatedly breached safety laws

By 13 November, 2020 November 16th, 2020 No Comments

A Perth waste recycling company has been ordered to pay a total of $564,000 for workplace safety breaches including a record $310,000 fine after being found guilty of gross negligence under section 19 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 (WA).

What happened?

The company had a history of serious safety incidents including the death of a worker in 2013 when an overloaded roof panel collapsed and a worker suffering a broken arm after being dragged into an unguarded moving conveyer belt in 2015.

Following the 2015 incident, the company was issued with an Improvement Notice that required it to install guarding on its machinery. However, despite advising WorkSafe that it had complied with the Improvement Notice, no guarding was installed. In 2016, a worker’s arm was severed at its Bayswater recycling plant whilst he was removing a rock from a machine without appropriate guarding.

Magistrate Dias found the company guilty of acting or failing to act in disregard of the likelihood of causing death or serious harm to the worker in relation to the 2016 incident in breach of section 19 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 (WA). The Magistrate highlighted that the company  appeared to have a blatant disregard for worker safety and that the company’s Manager Director, provided insufficient training to his employees, who were mostly Sri Lankan with little to no English language skills.

The Magistrate ordered that the company pay:

  • a $310,000 fine in relation to the 2016 incident;
  • a $20,000 fine for failing to comply with the 2015 Improvement Notice; and
  • $243,000 in costs.

How can I protect my business?

With the maximum fines for this type of serious offence being increased from $500,000 to $10,000,000 (for a company) mid next year, this case provides a clear warning to employers of the severe consequences of gross negligence in the workplace.

Now more than ever, it is crucial that employers review their risk management systems, training processes, plant and equipment to ensure that all reasonable steps are being taken to minimise risk. Proactive steps are necessary to avoid exposing the company and its senior officers to liability for prosecution.

In particular, employers should:

  • Review their safety systems now – being pro active is the best way to minimise a companies risk – don’t rely on a good safety track record
  • comply with any valid Improvement and Prohibition Notices from WorkSafe;
  • be honest and co-operative with WorkSafe;
  • take prompt action to ensure that they are providing and maintaining safe workplaces;
  • provide information, instructions and training to employees so that they can perform their work safely;
  • consult and cooperate with safety and health representatives; and
  • provide adequate protective clothing and equipment .

If you would like to know more about your obligations and what the new WHS Bill means for your business, contact one of our specialist employment and safety lawyers here.