Incitec Pivot Limited and labour hire company Skilled Group Limited both pleaded guilty at the Geelong Magistrates’ Court this week to failing to provide a safe workplace. Incitec Pivot was convicted and fined $90,000 and Skilled Group was convicted and fined $70,000.
The court heard that Skilled had sent its employee to Incitec’s factory at North Shore, near Geelong, in June 2011. His job was to ensure that the conveyor belts carrying the fertiliser operated efficiently.
But after less than one month on the job, the worker was injured when attempting to clear a build-up of fertiliser from a moving overhead conveyor belt using a shovel. When the man’s shovel got caught, his arm and shoulder were dragged into the conveyor, leaving him trapped and suspended for several minutes.
The court was told the worker suffered a serious and permanent injury to his left shoulder and was still recovering nine months after the incident.
A WorkSafe investigation found it was common for workers at the factory to chip fertiliser off moving conveyors with shovels, hammers and crowbars. The court heard that Incitec had relied on a “buddy system” to train the injured worker.
But one of the man's “buddies” also thought it was ok to chip fertiliser off a moving conveyor, and another had only worked there for two weeks.
In her sentencing, Magistrate Ann McGarvie said: "A buddy system only works if your buddy is telling you the right thing to do. Here, that didn't happen."
The court heard it was unnecessary for the workers to chip off the fertiliser since that was supposed to be done during production breaks with the conveyors turned off. But nobody told the workers that or supervised them properly.
The court heard that the labour hire company Skilled had failed to determine the nature of the work its employee would be doing at the factory and it had not checked that Incitec had properly trained him for the job.
WorkSafe’s Regional Director, Adam Rogers, said employers had a legal obligation to provide a safe workplace.
“We hope this case serves as a wake-up call for employers, managers and supervisors to recognise their added responsibilities and make sure their risk assessment, training, and supervision practices reflect this,” he said.