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Court blasts Toll over workplace safety

Toll fined $220,000 for OHS breach, as judge tells trucking industry to lift its game

By Brad Gardner | May 21, 2009

Trucking operators have been warned to focus on safety at depots after Toll was fined more than $200,000 for the death of a truck driver.

Robert John Starr was folding a tarpaulin in the middle of a thoroughfare at Toll’s Wagga Wagga depot when he was run over by a truck at 1am in 2004.

The NSW Industrial Court heard Toll did not have a system of separating pedestrians and vehicles and failed to conduct a risk assessment of the depot, while Starr was not given an on-site safety induction.

The company pleaded guilty to breaching the Occupational Health and Safety Act and was fined $220,000, with Justice Trish Kavanagh saying the penalty should serve as a wake-up call to the industry.

“A rigorous approach is needed by all employers conducting work within the transport industry which involves the movement of such vehicles and this is especially so in their confined depot areas,” she says.

“An element of general deterrence is necessary in the consideration as to penalty to remind the industry of the necessary insistence on not only defined safe working models, but the performance of tasks in accordance with those safe working modules.”

Kavanagh accused Toll of ignoring safety standards because it knew drivers worked in the middle of a thoroughfare but did nothing to rectify the situation.

“There were obvious steps that could have been taken which, either singly or in combination, would have eliminated or reduced the risk,” she says.

Toll could have been fined up to $825,000 due to previous safety breaches, with Kavanagh saying the company “does not have a fine industrial record”.

But lawyers for the company questioned why other parties were not held liable for the accident because Starr was not a direct employee of Toll.

The court was told Starr worked for Wayne Lewis Transport, which provided safety vests and told its drivers to wear them when required.

Toll also wanted action taken against the driver who ran Starr over but its pleas were rejected because there was no evidence the driver was speeding.

“I accept the driver did not see Mr Starr who, by inference, was bent over his truck’s tarpaulin in the dark in a traffic carrying and not wearing a safety vest,” Kavanagh says.

The area also suffered from poor lighting and Kavanagh says there was no evidence the driver was speeding.

Since the incident Toll has installed additional lights, traffic lines, parking signs and designated work areas, while also reviewing its induction process and ensuring safety vests are worn.

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