A farming company in Victoria was recently prosecuted and fined $450,000 following an incident in which a 15-year-old boy was killed after the forklift he was driving rolled and crushed him.
Lilford Farms pleaded guilty at the Wangaratta County Court to one charge of breaching the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 for failing to ensure a safe workplace.
The company, which grew snow pea crops on a farm near Shepparton, engaged a labour hire contractor to supply workers to pick peas at the property.
On 15 November 2014, the owner of the labour hire company brought his 15-year-old son and his son’s two friends, aged 16 and 17, to help with picking.
The man explained the process for picking the snow peas to the teenagers and explained that his son would be supervisor, before leaving the property.
The court heard that the teenagers were not provided with any safety instructions in relation to the site or the work they were about to undertake.
The court also heard that a forklift on the farm had been left with the keys in the ignition.
The forklift was used by both the farm owner and labour hire owner to move full bins of picked snow peas onto a transport truck. Each held appropriate forklift licences.
The court heard that there had been no prior hazard identification or risk assessment for operation of the forklift, including the terrain on which it was to operate.
Soon after the labour hire owner left the farm, his son began driving the forklift. According to eyewitnesses, the teenager was driving it in an unsafe manner, driving fast around corners, skidding and drifting, while not wearing a seat belt.
Several hours later, the teenager was killed when the forklift tipped over.
The absence of safe systems of work, safety instructions and supervision contributed to the tragic incident, said WorkSafe executive director of health and safety, Marnie Williams.
“Three teenagers, two of which had no prior farm work experience, were left to work on a commercial farm totally unsupervised. As a result, one died and two were witness to a tragic workplace incident,” Williams said.
“The forklift was accessible to anyone, and leaving the keys in the ignition was an invitation to disaster.
“The lack of instruction and training meant there was little to no understanding of the risks involved with driving a forklift.
“Because of their lack of experience, young people are particularly vulnerable at work. They must always be supervised and safety should never been left to chance.”