$60K fine after worker crushed by forklift

The District Court described the original compensation as "manifestly inadequate"

$60K fine after worker crushed by forklift

In a recent case in the Queensland District Court, Judge Reid allowed an appeal, finding the learned Magistrate Shearer erred in his consideration of a company’s breach of its duty to ensure health and safety.

In the original hearing, the learned Magistrate found the respondent had breached s 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld) by failing to comply with its duty to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of its workers. 

The sentence came following an incident in November 2018, whereby two workers were operating two Mitsubishi forklifts in the company’s packing room. A third worker entered the room and was crushed between the two machines, sustaining a soft tissue injury to his right abdomen.

Prior to the incident, the respondent had not implemented proper traffic management procedures, such as physical barriers or line marking delineating pedestrian and forklift areas.

Despite this, the learned Magistrate was of the view that the accident was “almost wholly the fault of the forklift operator”, remarking that there was “not much the company [could] do about an individual’s stupidity”.

“This incident was entirely caused by the negligence and carelessness of a single employee operating in a way he was not supposed to, that the asserted changes to operating procedures that had been advanced by the prosecutor, in my view, would not have done much to change”, the Magistrate said.

The Magistrate imposed a fine of $25,000 on the company.

On appeal, Judge Reid found the Magistrate had “misunderstood, or refused to understand, the true nature of the company’s breach”.

“He appears to have been fixated on the view that to have required the employer to have taken wholly appropriate steps was an example of what he disparagingly referred to as the ‘nanny state’ and ‘this persistent infantilisation of society’,” Judge Reid said.

Finding that the Magistrate had given “scant regard” to the respondent’s wider breach, and the incident could have resulted in far more severe injuries, Judge Reid described the penalty imposed as “manifestly inadequate”.

After considering similar cases, the worker’s relatively minor injury, and the objective seriousness of the risk, Judge Reid raised the penalty imposed on the company to $60,000.

Key Takeaways:

  • Employee errors do not excuse a company of its fundamental duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of its workers

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