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Linfox fined $90,000 for workplace accident that crushed employee’s head

Linfox employee’s head was crushed between the load of a forklift and a shipping container.


Linfox has been slapped with a $90,000 fine after an employee’s head was crushed in a workplace accident.

The Federal Court found Linfox breached workplace safety laws in 2011 when Darren Southam was seriously injured while unloading freight from a shipping container at an Ikea distribution centre in New South Wales.

Southam was inside the container at the same time as a forklift. The vehicle collided with him, crushing his head between the load on the forklift and the inside wall of the shipping container.

Southam suffered facial fractures, a fractured jaw, nerve and teeth damage and severe facial lacerations.

Judge Geoffrey Flick ruled that Linfox did not to take all reasonable steps to protect the health and safety of its employees, including failing to conduct a hazard inspection or risk assessment related to the work being performed.

He says Linfox should have prohibited its employees from entering shipping containers while forklifts were unloading freight, instructed and trained its employees on correct operating procedures and supervised staff to ensure they unloaded freight safely.

“No formal hazard identification or risk assessment had been conducted by Linfox into the task of emptying the Ikea containers prior to the accident,” Flick says.

He says there was a foreseeable risk of injury because employees were within shipping containers at the same time as forklifts, and six weeks prior to the accident a supervisor was aware of workers entering shipping containers to help forklift drivers unload pallets.

“The unloading of pallets from the Ikea containers…gave rise to difficulties different to the unloading of containers from other suppliers and an increased risk to the safety of employees,” Flick says.

“The Ikea containers, for example, were loaded in a manner which made the pallets difficult to lift and remove without damaging the product.”

Linfox carried out a risk assessment days after the incident and subsequently banned employees from entering a container while a forklift was operating within one.

The company faced a maximum penalty of $242,000 but Flick limited the amount after federal workplace safety agency Comcare, which prosecuted the case, and Linfox reached an agreement that the penalty should be between $60,000 and $90,000.

“In the absence of agreement, it may well have been the case that consideration would have been given to imposing a penalty higher than $90,000,” Flick says.

Comcare acting general manager of regulatory operations Paul Orwin says the case shows companies with high-risk operations need to ensure they have appropriate health and safety systems in place.

“There is a serious risk of injury or death when performing work of this nature,” Orwin says.

“Employers need to undertake the appropriate risk assessments to ensure employees carrying out these duties understand the requirements and are safe.”

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