A Western Australian waste recycling company has been fined more than $330,000, and an additional $234,000 in costs after they were found guilty of gross negligence in the Perth Magistrates Court.
The charges – non-compliance with an improvement notice issued by WorkSafe and gross negligence in failing to provide and maintain a safe work environment for a labour-hire worker – relate to an incident in 2016.
While working at Resource Recovery Solutions’ recycling facility, a labour-hire worker was completing tasks as a ‘picker’, whereby he was required to remove items that were unsuitable for recycling from a conveyer belt. He was also required to clear any blockages that occurred.
On the day of the incident, a blockage had been cleared and the conveyer belt had been restarted. The worker reached to remove a rock that was near the end of the belt and the roller when he was dragged into the crush point. The worker was critically injured and required amputation of the arm at the shoulder.
It was heard in court that there was no safety guarding around the belt or crush points, and no lockout tag procedure, which would have isolated moving parts to prevent injuries while removing a blockage.
Darren Kavanagh, WorkSafe WA Commissioner, said the verdict on the count of gross negligence was significant.
“This decision is important as it is the first time an entity has been found guilty of gross negligence under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the most serious offence possible under that Act,” Mr Kavanagh said.
“The obligation on WorkSafe as a prosecutor to prove that a company has been grossly negligent is particularly difficult.
“The company had a long history of flouting workplace safety laws. In September 2013, another worker at this plant was killed when an overloaded roof panel collapsed and crushed him.
“WorkSafe inspectors visited the workplace and found that numerous conveyor belts were not guarded. They were reassured that the plant was fully automated and workers were not present when the plant was running.
“Another worker suffered a broken arm in February 2015 when his arm was dragged into a moving conveyor belt which again had no guarding.
“WorkSafe issued an Improvement Notice requiring guarding to be installed on crush points of the belts, but this was not complied with despite several reminder letters being sent to the employer.
“The company Director advised that the notice had been complied with, but this worker had his arm literally torn off by an unguarded conveyor belt.
“The employer, in this case, has continued to disregard the safety of workers by allowing them to work with conveyor belts with unguarded crush points even after numerous incidents at that workplace.
“The Magistrate stated in her decision that the disregard for safety was blatant and went well beyond mere neglect.
“The Magistrate concluded beyond reasonable doubt that the company acted or failed to act in disregard of the likelihood of causing death or serious harm to a person to whom a duty was owed.
“It’s worth noting that this incident occurred before penalties for breaches of workplace safety laws were increased in 2018, so the maximum fine available to the Magistrate for the gross negligence offence was $500,000. If this incident had occurred after October 2018, the maximum available fine would have been $2.7million, a significant increase.
“This complete disregard for worker safety is the precise reason we have gross negligence provisions in the State’s workplace safety laws, and this case should send out a strong warning to all employers to protect the safety of their workers.”