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Operator fined and convicted over driver death

Trucking operator fined and convicted after lack of training and lax safety standards led to crushing death of driver

By Brad Gardner | October 11, 2010

A NSW trucking operator has been fined and convicted after a lack of training and lax safety standards led to the crushing death of a driver.

Todd Ashley Smyth died when his head was caught between the fins of a concrete agitator truck and the unit that feeds concrete to the barrel, known as the gob hopper, while cleaning the vehicle in February 2008.

Hunter Readymixed Concrete pleaded guilty to breaching occupational health and safety law because the truck did not have safety guards to prevent an incident and Smyth did not receive formal training.

“He had sustained a severe wound on the side of his head and there was a large amount of blood located around his body, as well as at the rear of the truck,” Justice Frank Marks says.

“Paramedics arrived at the premises shortly after and pronounced Mr Smyth dead on arrival.”

The NSW Industrial Relations Commission convicted and fined Hunter Readymixed Concrete $85,000. The operator faced a maximum penalty of $550,000.

A submission presented by WorkCover – not disputed by Hunter – says the trucks were not fitted with guards to prevent access to the fins that turn the concrete.

The Commission was told trucks bought by the company were fitted with guards, but were subsequently removed. Drivers had complained the guards restricted their vision and made it difficult to clean the trucks.

The Commission heard that Hunter failed to undertake a risk assessment before the fatal incident and did not identify the risk of injury from removing safety guards.

“No specific instruction or training was given with respect to the guarding of the truck, or about the safe means of cleaning it, including information about the hazards associated with the manner in which the work was seemingly attempted by Mr Smyth,” the WorkCover submission reads.

“Although the defendant did have an informal system of work in relation to the cleaning of trucks, it was not documented and it was not adequately enforced.”

Marks says the operator did not have a written procedure on how to safely clean the trucks and did not specify a safe working distance when cleaning the vehicles.

“As a consequence of the above, the only training the defendant’s truck drivers received in the cleaning of concrete agitator trucks prior to the incident was through a buddy system,” he says.

However, Marks ruled that the incident was “moderately serious” due to the actions of Smyth.

While there were no eyewitnesses, Marks says Smyth climbed the concrete chute that led from the hopper to the agitator barrel while it was moving.

“The method employed by Mr Smyth to clean the truck was not sanctioned by the defendant. Neither Mr Smyth nor any other employees of the defendant were ever instructed to stand in the discharge chute to the clean the fins,” Marks says

According to WorkCover, Hunter Readymixed Concrete provided a ladder and platform for drivers to clean the truck.

“Had Mr Smyth used the purpose built platform for this purpose, there would have been no possibility of the accident occurring,” the WorkCover submission reads.

Its submission claims Smyth had been warned previously by work colleagues not to climb the back of the vehicle and had been trained in how to correctly clean the agitator truck.

Since the accident, Hunter Readymixed Concrete has overhauled its safety and training methods.

Marks says it established an internal audit team to look at how agitator trucks are cleaned.

“The defendant has also fitted all of its concrete trucks with a guard between the gob hopper and agitator bowl,” he says.

Hunter also conducted a job safety analysis and developed and documented safe work procedures. A formal training regime was introduced, alongside vehicle induction for drivers.

Marks says there is now a detailed cleaning protocol for trucks that employees are aware of and required to comply with.

As well as the fine, Hunter was ordered to pay WorkCover’s costs. Hunter cooperated with WorkCover during the investigation and has provided care and assistance to Smyth’s family.

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