Urgent Wake-Up Call to Business Leaders: Neglecting Worker Safety Can Lead to Catastrophic Consequences
More than 120 companies were fined for critical safety breaches in 2022
Fourteen of those companies were hit with six-figure penalties for breaching the Occupational Health and Safety Act, with the total of all fines imposed by the courts of, $5,588,750.
Offenses involving working at heights saw 35 duty holders prosecuted and fined. This was followed by matters involving inadequate or absent guarding (23) and unsafe, or unsafe use of, machinery (18) and forklifts (11).
Multiple employers were also fined for offenses involving electric shocks, unsafe crane use, and failing to keep young workers between the ages of 16 and 20 safe.
Construction (47) and manufacturing (36) matters accounted for two-thirds of WorkSafe’s workplace safety prosecutions. These two industries also accounted for more than a quarter of all accepted worker compensation claims in 2022.
WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said the outcomes showed that some employers still ignore their basic legal obligations when it comes to using established solutions for common workplace safety risks.
“Training workers in the safe operation of equipment, using a passive fall prevention device when working at heights, ensuring machines are appropriately guarded and maintained, and erecting physical barriers to separate pedestrians from mobile plant are all proven ways to reduce workplace injuries and deaths,” Dr. Beer said.
“But having the knowledge is not enough. Employers must actively implement measures to make their workplaces safe.”
Dr Beer said the lack of care shown for some young workers was particularly shocking.
In December, Langwarrin carpentry company Topline Carpentry South East Pty Ltd was fined $130,000 after a 16-year-old apprentice was injured twice in a day. The teen suffered a badly cut hand when a power saw was thrown at him but continued to work one-handed before being shot in the head by a nail gun while constructing a door frame, with the nail penetrating 20mm into his brain.
“This horrific event highlights the vulnerability of young workers,” Dr Beer said.
“It is vital that those who are new to the workforce are adequately supervised and presented with examples of what a safety-first attitude looks like from their employer and other experienced workers.
“Employers are responsible for fostering a supportive environment where workers are encouraged to speak up or ask questions when they have safety concerns.”
Other major WorkSafe prosecution outcomes in 2022 included:
• Road tanker manufacturer Marshall Lethlean Industries Pty Ltd was fined $600,000 after a young apprentice died from asphyxiation while working inside a tanker at a Cranbourne West factory in 2018.
• Peter Stoitse Transport Pty Ltd was fined $490,000 following the death of a truck driver in Gippsland in 2018.
• Stone importer Australia Rong Hua Fu Pty Ltd (RHF Stone) was fined $475,000 after a worker was fatally crushed at a Dingley Village warehouse in 2020.
• Campbellfield company Best Benchtop and Stone Pty Ltd was fined $325,000 after a worker was crushed and killed by stone slabs weighing more than six tonnes in 2020.
These are just a handful of the penalties issued to various companies across Australia, for what seemingly, are completely controllable and preventable events.
In 100% of the cases above, each and every applied control, whether training, systems, or supervisory, would have cost just a fraction of the cost of the final outcome not forgetting the permanent injuries and loss of life!
When will businesses, and industry leaders, recognize the potential imbalance that exists, of time and resources, to ensure their people remain safe at work?