Poultry contractor fined $1.13m over forklift tragedy

A poultry contractor was today convicted and fined $1.13 million over an incident in which a man was struck and killed by a forklift on a farm at Lethbridge, near Geelong in 2015.


CK Crouch Pty Ltd was found guilty in the Geelong Magistrate’s Court of three breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 – two charges of failing to provide or maintain safe systems of work and one charge of failing to provide information, instruction and training to employees.

It was also ordered to pay $3200 in costs.

The company was contracted by Baiada Poultry Pty Ltd to catch and load live chickens from various farms, including a chicken farm at Lethbridge, about 30km north-west of Geelong.

On 30 November 2015, workers attended the Lethbridge farm to catch and load chickens. The workers would herd the chickens to one or both sides of the shed, before dimming the shed lights to reduce the stress to the animals.

Cages would then be brought into the shed by forklift and workers would fill them. The forklift would then carry the cage outside to the waiting transport. Each cage held up to 160 chickens.

At about 11pm, a forklift carrying a full cage of chickens was moving through the shed at about 5km/h when it struck a worker as he was picking up a chicken.

The 41-year-old man, who was wearing dark clothing, suffered serious chest, spine and pelvis injuries and died at the scene.

The court heard that there was a risk of serious injury or death to employees working near a moving forklift in near dark conditions.

The company had two written work procedures for catching and manually loading live chickens into cages and safety around workers and forklifts. The procedure for the separation of the forklift from workers was illustrated in a safety diagram.

However, the court heard that employees were not aware of these procedures, and had not been provided with information, instruction or training about the safe working procedures around forklifts. It was also found that the forklift driver had not been inducted into the safety procedures.

During WorkSafe’s investigation, the company was unable to produce records of any employees receiving induction or any other training in these procedures. In addition, employees were not provided with or required to wear reflective clothing during the chicken catching and loading process.

WorkSafe Executive Director Health and Safety, Marnie Williams, said the tragedy could have been prevented had the company followed proper safety practices.

“This company had safety procedures written down and even illustrated in a diagram, but they weren’t worth the paper they were on because they’d provided none of the information or training to their employees,” she said. “Tragically it cost a man his life and a family their loved one.”

Ms Williams said operating a forklift in a dimly lit environment close to workers was a recipe for disaster.

“To be operating a forklift late at night with the shed illuminated by a single row of dim blue lights during the catching and loading process, and with no requirement for workers to wear hi-vis vests is just a staggering departure from safe working practices,” Ms Williams said.

“Forklifts are an important piece of machinery but they are incredibly dangerous if they are not used appropriately.”

Ms Williams said employers had a responsibility to provide a safe working environment and this included providing appropriate instruction and training to workers.

“Appropriate traffic management is a basic safety measure that should be a priority in every workplace where machinery or vehicles are being used,” Ms Williams said. “Simply having it written down is not enough, safe procedures must be put into practice.”

Safety tips:

  • Ensure all workers receive appropriate induction and training on the work they are to be involved in and that a register of training and induction is maintained on file
  • Ensure machinery and vehicles are regularly inspected and maintained
  • If a traffic management plan is required, ensure it is reviewed and updated as appropriate
  • Workers and members of the public must be isolated and separated from powered machinery and vehicles
  • Implement an effective communication system between forklift operators, transport contractors and ground staff
  • Ensure appropriate signage is in place and erect barriers where appropriate
  • Identify and control visibility issues, particularly if lighting is poor (eg. fog, rain, night works).