A regional employment services provider in Queensland has been fined $90,000 after a 2016 incident at the Toowoomba Showgrounds in which a worker died after falling from the back of a flat-bed trailer towed by a tractor.
A Workplace Health and Safety Queensland investigation found work-for-the-dole participants placed by a recruitment specialist were expected to perform their duties at the showgrounds without appropriate inductions and training, and little supervision.
The court found the defendant’s failure to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of its workers because supervisors failed to deliver supervision, training, induction and risk assessment was a clear breach of the Act.
The court was told of a number of reasonably practicable control measures the defendant could have implemented.
These included: ensuring supervisors complied with the organisation’s policies, in particular its workplace health and safety manual, and making sure supervisors provided work for the dole workers with appropriate site induction and training, following a proper risk assessment.
The prosecution alleged that while the defendant had a suite of policies and procedures, it failed to ensure they were being followed by staff tasked with supervising the programs.
The provision of supervision of work-for-the-dole workers was at the core of the defendant’s business and was one of a number of responsibilities placed upon it through the terms of its contractual arrangement with the Commonwealth Government in relation to managing work for the dole workers.
The prosecution submitted that work-for-the-dole workers are vulnerable, many undertaking the program are inexperienced and have no choice but to participate or lose part, or all, of their income support payments.
The defence raised a number of matters of mitigation, including the positive post incident steps taken, that it no longer participates in the work for the dole program, contributions it has made to local sporting community groups and the psychological support provided to workers affected by the incident.
Magistrate Vivianna Keegan acknowledged this was a category 3 offence and that the maximum penalty of $500,000 was significant.
Whilst admitting that the loss of the worker was tragic, she said it was not an element of the offence under section 33. She however identified that this was an obvious risk and it was relatively easy to take steps to avoid that risk.
Magistrate Keegan determined that simply having systems was not enough, and there must be measures in place to ensure they are followed.
Taking into account the early guilty plea, post incident steps (including expanding the WHS team, retraining of staff and management), pulling out of the work for the dole program, employment of 312 staff, lack of previous convictions under the Act, and being good corporate citizen, the magistrate ruled the fine should be $150,000, but discounted to $90,000.
The defendant was also ordered to pay professional and court costs of almost $1,400. No conviction was recorded.
The prosecution against the Royal Agricultural Society of Queensland is still before the courts with a mention set down for 16 November in Toowoomba.