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Leaner penalties seen for firms making safety effort

Taking positive steps on workplace health and safety can reduce penalties ascribed to earlier incidents, an industrial lawyer advises


A recent decision in the SA Industrial Relations Court proves that it’s rarely too late to address safety issues in the workplace.

Scrap metal buyer Trading Metals was fined just three per cent of the allowable maximum after an employee lost part of their finger in a forklift accident.

Squire Patton Boggs lawyer Emma Dawson says the company was quick to accept responsibility for the incident, and to also address safety deficiencies at its workplace.

Before the incident, the company had also made attempts to complete a legislative compliance audit.

“Trading Metals entered an early plea of guilty and was found to be co-operative during the investigation and prosecution stage,” she says.

The industrial magistrate also noted it was a first offence for Trading Metals.

He imposed a fine of $65,000, which was automatically reduced by 40 per cent because of the company’s early plea.

The final amount payable ($39,000) was less than three per cent of the maximum penalty that the magistrate could have imposed ($1.5 million).

“This case serves as a timely reminder that a company’s decision to undertake an occupational health and safety legislative compliance audit will be considered by the court when determining the sum of penalties to be imposed following an incident,” Dawson says.

Dawson says as well as creating evidence of due diligence for officers and directors, audits provide useful analysis of workplace processes and risks.

“We have had a number of clients who have seen the benefit of completing an Occupational Safety and Health Audit and we would recommend it as a relatively low cost yet high value return.”

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