L. Arthur Pty Ltd was sentenced and fined on Friday in Melbourne’s County Court after pleading guilty to two charges under the OHS Act (2004) of failing to provide a safe workplace for people other than its employees, and that of its own employees.

The court heard that L. Arthur was engaged by P&O Automotive and General Stevedoring on an occasional basis to move unusual and heavy cargo on and off ships at Appleton Dock.

On 14 July 2010, two employees from L. Arthur and two employees from POAGS were using a gantry crane to unload a 27-tonne steel drum from a truck at the dock. The gantry crane was made up of two separate lifting rams, which were used to lift a central three-tonne metal beam.

For safety reasons, the lifting rams had to be raised or lowered in unison to ensure the beam stayed level at all times. The lifting rams were powered by diesel pump units connected by pressure hoses. The lifting rams would not extend or retract without the pressure hoses being connected.

To allow the truck to position the steel drum underneath the crane, the pressure hoses from the rams on one unit were disconnected to avoid being damaged by the reversing truck. Disconnecting the hoses was a normal part of the system of work.

But the hoses were not reconnected before the crane was positioned above the drum. As there was no hydraulic power to one of the lifting rams, it did not lower when the crane began operating. But the other lifting ram did.

As a result, the three-tonne steel beam slipped and fell on POAGS employee Steven Piper, killing him. The other three workers narrowly avoided being struck.

WorkSafe regional director Shane Gillard said Mr Piper’s death was a terrible tragedy.

“Mr Piper rightly expected to go home at the end of his working day. Instead, his family are still grieving the loss of a loved one, and his friends and colleagues are grieving the loss of a mate,” Mr Gillard said.

“The enormity of the impact of a workplace death can never be underestimated. This case serves as a clear reminder to every employer and employee that safety must be their number one priority.”