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RMS fined $175,000 for death of roadside worker

NSW road authority fined and convicted after one of its workers died when a B-double struck the agency's vehicle

A Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) employee killed while undertaking roadside maintenance was working without key safety conditions in place, a court has found. 

Steven Eliot died while he and four other RMS employees were working on the F3 Freeway at Warnervale in New South Wales. A B-double attempting to pass another truck hit an RMS vehicle on the shoulder of the road, which then collided with Eliot, killing him and seriously injuring his colleagues.

The Industrial Court of NSW found no risk assessment was conducted prior to maintenance work commencing, there were no advance warning signals in place to inform motorists of roadworks, the speed limit was not reduced from 110km/h to 60km/h in line with RMS requirements and there was no team leader to supervise the workers.

“As a result the crew were without adequate instructions and information about how the task was to be undertaken or how the site could and should be made safe,” Justice Anna Backman says.

“The crew was working in proximity to high volume traffic at high speeds, without any appropriate safety measures in place to ensure their safety.”

Backman convicted the RMS and fined it $175,000 for breaching the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The RMS could have been fined a maximum of $825,000.

Backman says the RMS was aware of the risks associated with the work its employees were doing at Warnervale given the department has documented systems in place dealing specifically with the dangers workers face at the roadside.

“The risk to safety was both obvious and foreseeable,” she says.

The RMS initially sought to have the charge of breaching the Act dismissed but then entered a guilty plea.

In sentencing the RMS, Backman highlighted the need to send a message about the importance of safety in roadside operations.

“The facts here demonstrate an obvious need for the application of general deterrence in the sentencing process. The interaction of workers working in the vicinity of moving vehicles and mobile plant gives rise to a risk of serious injuries including fatalities, when safety is not a priority,” she says.

The driver of the B-double involved in the incident and motorists behind him reported not seeing any advance warning signs. Motorists also said they were unaware an RMS vehicle was parked on the shoulder of the freeway.

Following the accident, the RMS reviewed its operations as part of efforts to reduce future risks to its workers.

It also offered counseling to its employees and their families, contributed to Eliot’s funeral expenses, presented a plaque to his mother and named the bridge at the incident site after him.

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