Third safety prosecution in four years for Colac timber company

A Colac company that received more than 100 safety improvement notices over less than a decade has been convicted and fined $70,000 for failing to comply with a safety improvement notice and having an unguarded machine which injured a worker.
News article published

Wednesday 16 Nov 2011

Industries and topics
  • Manufacturing
  • Fall prevention

Associated Kiln Driers Pty Ltd (trading as AKD Softwoods) yesterday pleaded guilty to two charges arising from separate incidents just a few months apart in 2009.

The charges* related to the company not complying with a safety improvement notice for more than five months after its due date and not having safe systems of work.

A WorkSafe inspector issued three safety improvement notices as a result of an incident in which a man fell three meters from a mezzanine floor in June 2009.  He was not hurt.

Two required the provision of safe systems of work for employees so they could not fall more than two meters. The third required the company to provide appropriate supervision so employees could work in a manner that was safe and without risks to health.

The first two notices were complied with by 15 July, but the third was not dealt with by the company until early 2010. More than five months after it was due.

The second charge related to an incident in November 2009 when a worker was hurt when a robotic arm suddenly reactivated when a worker removed a blockage.

He sustained serious injuries to his right arm and pelvis. Safety improvements made after the incident cost $10,000.

Colac Magistrate Stephen Myall was told that since 2001, AKD had received 117 safety improvement or prohibition notices issued and was prosecuted twice in 2007 for inadequate traffic management (convicted and fined $10,000) and for inadequate guarding on a conveyer (convicted and fined $40,000).

WorkSafe’s General Manager for Operations, Lisa Sturzenegger, said the timber products industry was a major focus for WorkSafe enforcement activity in 2011-12.

“It is among eight industries that have a particularly high rate of injuries and needs to do much more to ensure the safety of workers.

“We require businesses to be proactive about safety, invest some time and effort and doing whatever is practicable to prevent people being hurt. We’ll provide help and support, but they have the legal responsibility to ensure people aren’t put at risk, hurt or killed.

“We should not have to issue as many safety improvement notices as this company received, but it is not alone in terms of safety issues in this industry. The risks are well-known; so are the solutions.

WorkSafe figures show that 783 workers compensation claims were reported from the

Colac-Otway Shire in the past five years.

“These are injuries where someone has been off work 10 days or more or had significant treatment, rehabilitation of other costs.

“The community cost to the region is considerable, averaging nearly $3-million a year over the past five years.

“On top of that are a range of business costs which include increased workers compensation premium for the individual business and others in affected industries and, in many cases, legal costs which ultimately flow back to the wider community.   

This prosecution comes in the wake a new WorkSafe awareness campaign reminding businesses of the need to address health and safety matters before an inspector visits.

Ms Sturzenegger said while the new ‘Any Day Now’ campaign reminded employers that WorkSafe inspectors were out and about, basic safety issues had to be dealt with at the business level.

“Prosecution is an expensive option, but is avoidable if safety obligations are met,” she said.

“Many people are doing the right thing, but we find we are not getting the traction we know is possible if every business addressed basic safety issues which can be fixed at little or no cost.”

 * The charges:

Section 21(1)&(2)(a) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act  2004 - failure to provide a safe system of work by failing to adequately guard a stick stacker machine (resulting in serious injuries to an employee).

Section 111(4) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 - failing to comply with an improvement notice re: working at height/fall protection on a mezzanine floor.