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RAAF truck incident prompts Department of Defence WHS conviction

Truck strapping deemed inadequate at minimising risk of worker harm


Truck-related safety shortcomings on a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) base that led to a critical worker injury has landed the Department of Defence a conviction and $350,000 fine.

Following an investigation by statutory authority Comcare into the maintenance operation in Queensland, Defence pleaded guilty in the Townsville Magistrates Court to a single criminal charge, admitting it failed in its duties under the Work Health and Safety Act.

The incident happened on the night of 16 August 2017 at the Royal Australian Air Force base in Townsville.

RAAF personnel were tasked with removing the nylon tape from an aircraft arrestor unit designed to stop planes during emergency landings, Comcare reports.

Workers were using a tow motor to remove the tape from an eight-tonne arrestor unit on a flat-bed truck.

The tape reached the end of the reel, pulling the arrestor unit from the truck and entangling a RAAF member who was on the rear of the vehicle at the time.

The arrestor unit and the worker fell onto the runway and the unit landed on the man’s legs, severing one and causing severe injuries to the other.

Defence was convicted of a Category 2 offence under section 32 of the WHS Act for exposing a person to risk of death or serious injury. The maximum penalty was $1.5 million.

How K&S Corporation also came under Comcare WHS scrutiny, here

Comcare regulatory operations group general manager Justin Napier says there were measures available to Defence to implement a safe system of work for the job.

“The work should only have been carried out when the arrestor unit was anchored to its foundation, rather than strapped to a truck,” Napier says.

“The arrestor tapes should also have had visible warning markers to alert workers when the tape was running out.

“These were reasonably practicable measures that would have minimised the risk of harm to the workers.”

Acting magistrate Scott Luxton recognised the early guilty plea but also the seriousness of the incident.

The likelihood of an improperly secured arrestor unit colliding with a worker was “not remote, but obvious and foreseeable”, he notes.

“The penalty imposed should serve as a means of encouraging employers to maintain what is described as a constant vigilance with respect to ensuring the safety of their employees and the workplace.”


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