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Warehouse operator fined $50,000 after driver injury

County Court finds warehouse had workplace safety plan in place but did not oversee implementation


A Melbourne warehouse operator has been fined $50,000 following a workplace injury that led to a 60-year-old truck driver being hit by a 185kg bale of wool.

In June Footscray-based Winnipeg Textiles was fined $7,000 without conviction and asked to pay $2,649 in costs by the Melbourne Magistrates Court for breach of Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 for failing to ensure safe workplace procedures were implemented at the facility.

However, Victoria’s Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) John Champion appealed against the verdict in the County Court of Victoria, claiming the sentence was “inadequate”.

On November 4, the County Court upheld the Magistrates Court decision to impose $2649 payment costs and found that the company did not explain safety procedures to delivery drivers or hold proper site inductions.

The court heard that the warehouse received about 6000 bales of wool, with each weighing 185kg, every week from a number of transport companies and subcontractors.

According to WorkSafe Victoria, the usual process for unloading flat top trailers and curtain-sided trucks involved the workers using two forklifts to unload bales from opposite sides of the trailer while a third forklift took the bales from the unloading area into the warehouse.

The court heard on day of the incident, April 1 last year, the subcontractor parked his truck in the designated unloading bay inside the warehouse, where he was hit by a wool bale that had dislodged from one of the two forklifts in operation at the time.

The court heard that the subcontractor was knocked unconscious by the blow that also resulted in a head injury and ligament damage.

The driver spent two days in hospital and lost two full weeks of work before returning to “reduced hours and modified duties”.

Although the designated unloading area had appropriate markings indicating pedestrian exclusion zones and signage advising drivers to remain in cabins or in safety areas while forklifts were in operation, the court heard that the driver was standing outside the vehicle, preparing the truck for unloading, while the forklifts had already begun operation.

The court heard that the warehouse had left the practice of safety procedures to forklift operators and drivers.

The court found that Winnipeg Textiles had a traffic management plan in place “but failed to ensure it was adhered to”.

WorkSafe executive director health and safety Marnie Williams says it not sufficient to have safe workplace guidelines in place and employers must ensure that the procudures are put into action.

“A man suffered serious injuries when he was hit by the wool bale, but is very lucky that those injuries weren’t fatal, all because the company did not act on the systems they’d set up,” Williams says. 

“It’s a constant source of frustration for WorkSafe when a company has a safe system written down on paper yet doesn’t put that into action to prevent these kinds of incidents.

“Forklifts are powerful, heavy and inherently unstable pieces of equipment. They can pose risks to both drivers and people walking in areas they are used in.

“Employers have an obligation to ensure everyone that comes into contact with their workplace understands the risks at the site and the controls in place.

“Do not leave safety to chance.”

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