Hardware store operator fined after employee’s fall from heights
A hardware store company and its sole director have been sentenced and fined in the Townsville Magistrates Court for breaching section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (The Act), having failed to comply with its primary health and safety duty.
The unnamed company operates retail hardware stores in Townsville and Rockhampton, with employees operating a front-end retail business supported by the back-of-house materials and warehousing functions. Typical routine tasks in the warehouse involve moving pallets of stock to and from semi-trailers.
Over time, workers at the Townsville store had adopted an informal process when unloading from a semi-trailer, which contains two separate decks.
When a forklift was used to lift pallets from the top deck, a worker would stand on the deck as a ‘spotter’ to ensure the forklift tines were correctly inserted into pallets during removal.
While undertaking this procedure, the spotter would be standing on the deck approximately 2.5 metres from the ground. Unfortunately, there were no measures in place to prevent an employee falling from the top deck of the truck.
On 14 August 2020, an employee was performing his standard role of spotting while a load was being moved from the top deck. After a pallet was driven away, the worker fell from the top deck, struck the ground and sustained severe head injuries.
Further, on this particular day, the store manager had directed a worker to operate the forklift despite not possessing the relevant licence. The female operator had completed a forklift operation course in June 2019 but had not applied to be issued a licence within the required time. This meant that she could only operate the forklift under direct supervision.
In sentencing the company and its director, Magistrate Viviana Keegan, commented on the catastrophic physical and psychological injuries sustained by the injured worker. In the magistrates’ assessment, the risk of death or serious injury was “obvious, foreseeable and easily remedied”.
Fundamentally, the Magistrate recommended a work instruction be introduced to prohibit workers from being present on the top deck.
The Magistrate imposed a fine of $50,000 on the company and $10,000 on the director. In mitigation, Magistrate Keegan acknowledged that the company and director pleaded guilty, cooperated with authorities, displayed remorse, had no prior WHS convictions, and accepted responsibility for the serious injuries sustained by the worker.
A further fine of $2,000 was imposed on the company for allowing the worker to operate a forklift without the appropriate licence or supervision.
For queries about safety, prosecutions, or other employment questions, please contact Dean Cameron at Workforce Advisory Lawyers – We Know Employment Law on 1300 WAL LAW, 0417 622 178 or via email to email@example.com
Disclaimer: This information is provided as general advice on workplace relations and employment law. It does not constitute legal advice, and it is always advisable to seek further information regarding specific workplace issues. Liability limited by a scheme approved under professional standards legislation.