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Intercoast owner fined for death of truck driver

Court hands out $88,000 in fines to company and owner over the death of a truck driver

By Brad Gardner | October 19, 2012

Intercoast Refrigerated Transport and its owner have been whacked with $88,000 in fines for their role in the death of truck driver Gregory Phillips in 2008.

The Industrial Court of New South Wales this week fined the business $80,000 and Anthony Francis Morfea $8,000 and ordered both parties to pay WorkCover’s court costs.

Phillips was crushed to death when an Intercoast-owned B-double moved while being repaired at an inspection facility on the Pacific Highway.

The business and Morfea were convicted under the Occupational Health and Safety Act for failing to provide a safe system of work. The court ruled Intercoast and Morfea should have instructed Phillips to stand clear of the truck while it was being repaired.

Intercoast, which is being liquidated, faced a maximum fine of $550,000, while Morfea could have been fined $55,000. Liquidators told the court Intercoast is still registered and will be deregistered once their investigations into the running of the business have finished.

In an affidavit, Morfea says he regrets the events that led to the death of Phillips. He says he relied on the repairer Autopool, which failed to use the correct wheel chocks.

Furthermore, Morfea says he was unaware of any industry practice mandating drivers not participate in the repair of vehicles.

“Rather, like Intercoast, most companies in the industry tended to rely on the expertise of repairers in relation to the conduct of repairs to their vehicles, without issuing express instructions to stand clear of the vehicle and not participate in repair of the vehicle in any way,” the affidavit says.

However, Justice Roger Boland ruled that Morfea’s ignorance was no excuse.

“The fact that it was not industry practice to issue express instructions that drivers not participate in repair of their vehicles and stand clear of their vehicles during repair is not a basis upon which the personal defendant may be excused given the nature of the liability under the Act,” he says.

Phillips chased after the B-double when it bounced over the chocks and started rolling towards the highway. He managed to apply the brakes but was crushed between the cabin’s door and a nearby steel pole in the process.

While saying the lack of instruction given to Phillips put the driver at risk, Boland did not apportion complete blame to Intercoast and Morfea.

“In the circumstances, I do not think one is able to conclude that Mr Phillip’s death manifested a serious risk created solely or even mainly by the corporate defendant,” he says.

“In other words, unlike many cases to come before the court, it could not be concluded that the death of Mr Phillips manifested a serious risk to safety for which the corporate defendant was wholly responsible.”

Autopool, which trades as Gilbert & Roach, was carrying out the repairs on the B-double. It was convicted and fined $220,000 for its role in the incident.

Phillips’ mother, Leila Margaret Phillips-Richards, says her son’s death has had a heavy toll on her health, finances and marriage. In her victim impact statement, she spoke of her “agonising, gut-wrenching sorrow and pain” and her “anger, distress, bitterness and bewilderment”.

The 55-year-old Morfea says he is now trying to start his life again after his business went bust. He says he is finding it hard to find work. His affidavit says he is trying to obtain a hire car permit and is currently applying for forklift driving jobs.

“I feel that the events which culminated in Mr Phillips’ death were extremely tragic and I sincerely regret not doing more if such actions could in any way have changed the outcome of that unfortunate day,” Morfea says.

“I did, however, do everything in my power to cooperate with WorkCover and make all recommended modifications to Intercoast’s systems to improve driver safety.”

The fines imposed on Morfea are covered by his director’s liability insurance.

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