Fonterra fined and convicted for fatality

Unsafe storage has resulted in an industry-wide warning from WorkSafe after dairy products manufacturer Fonterra Australia Pty Ltd was today convicted and fined $300,000 in the Melbourne County Court.
News article published

Monday 17 Oct 2011

Industries and topics
  • Agriculture
  • Manufacturing
  • Claims

WorkSafe’s General Manager for Operations, Lisa Sturzenegger, said all businesses had to ensure they could safely store bulk products or other stock.

Fonterra Australia pleaded guilty to one charge* after a forklift driver died at its Stanhope cheese factory in September 2009.WorkSafe’s investigation found the man died when a one tonne bag of salt fell on him.

Judge Frank Gucciardo said the system for stacking bags at Stanhope was unsafe.

He said it was not until after the man’s death that a safe racking system was put in place and a written procedure developed. Had it not been for its guilty plea, Fonterra would have been fined $400,000.

WorkSafe’s investigation found the practice of stacking bulk salt bags at Stanhope was unsafe as the tops of lower bags may not be sufficiently level to safely accommodate those on top.  

The danger was such that if the surface of a bag was not level, even a small disturbing force could cause the stack to topple.

Marking the start of WorkSafe Week Ms Sturzenegger said common safety failings involving routine tasks cause the overwhelming majority of workplace injuries and deaths.

“In this case the bags of salt were delivered and stacked every week. The lesson for others is to understand the potential safety issues, consult with the workforce and fix problems.

“It’s extraordinary how quickly things can change in the workplace so it’s important that regular reviews are carried out and ensure people stay up-to-date.

“When disaster strikes, there’s no going back. Fixing issues after the event is not the solution.

“Incidents like this one hit families, businesses and communities hard. They have long-term-effects.

“Getting safety right means no one has to go through what this family and this company have had to,” Ms Sturzenegger said. 

The charge:

Section 21 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004

Duties of employers to employees

(1) An employer must, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide and maintain for employees of the employer a working environment that is safe and without risks to health.

(2)  Without limiting sub-section (1), an employer contravenes that sub-section if the employer fails to do any of the following:

(a) provide or maintain plant or systems of work that are, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health;

and …

  1. provide such information, instruction, training or supervision to employees of the employer as is necessary to enable those persons to perform their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health.