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A car dealership was fined on 24th May 2022, by the Maroochydore Magistrates Court for violating section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (the “Act”) for failing to fulfil its primary health and safety obligation, as stipulated in section 19 according to the court.

How did the incident occur?

The accused company operated a shop in Maroochydore where they sold and maintained cars and employed numerous employees and trainees. The defendant owned and ran a forklift that was used for many things, like moving skip bins to and from the kerbside so they could be picked up.

The skip bins were moved by apprentices, and one apprentice learned how to drive a forklift from a coworker and became the main forklift driver at the workplace. This coworker was licenced to operate a forklift, but they were not permitted to instruct others, therefore the apprentice was unable to obtain a licence.

On 9th June 2020, a different apprentice approached the forklift operator as he was about to pick up the skip bins from the kerb. The other apprentice rode on the side of the forklift to accompany the forklift operator to the bins because he wanted to assist him.

Both apprentices knew it was against the rules to sit on the side of a forklift while it was moving. The other apprentice jumped off the forklift before it started moving when he saw his supervisor walking towards them.

The person driving the forklift didn’t see the other apprentice get off, so he started driving. The forklift ran up the other apprentice’s leg as a result, causing soft tissue damage. The injured apprentice lost three weeks of work while he was unable to bear weight on his injured leg for a week.

Why did the incident occur?

Investigations revealed that the defendant had not implemented any forklift-specific safe systems of work or traffic management plans at work, along with any other safety risks and hazards. Additionally, the defendant failed to ensure that forklift drivers had the proper licences and were taught, directed, and monitored while operating them so that dangers to pedestrians were controlled.

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Why was the car dealership fined $40,000?

His Honour considered the objectives of the Act as well as the maximum sentence that may be imposed for the offence when determining the appropriate punishment. While this incident demonstrated that the defendant’s safety procedures and plans were deficient, according to His Honour, the risk was evident, particularly given that the workers engaged were young and inexperienced.

While acknowledging that the apprentices understood it was against the rules to sit on the side of the forklift and had contributed to the accident, His Honor considered it was fortunate that the injuries weren’t more serious.

The judge acknowledged that the defendant misinterpreted the obligations of the Work Health and Safety Regulations as a mitigating factor. He believed that as long as they were under the supervision of a worker with a licence, unauthorised personnel might operate the forklift. The defendant’s early admission of guilt spared the court and the prosecution from having to schedule a hearing and shown their readiness to assist in the administration of justice, according to His Honor. The judge decided not to enter a conviction after His Honor emphasised that the defendant was an otherwise excellent corporate citizen and employer who greatly benefited the community.

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Lessons that can be learnt

Many businesses have listened to rumours from others, or haven’t kept up to date with safety legislation changes, and this has resulted in them being prosecuted for safety breaches. The most common defence against a charge of breaching safety obligations is that the company had no knowledge of the breach. This was the case for the car dealership which was fined $40,000 after an employee was injured by a unlicensed forklift operator. The company didn’t have any safe systems of work in place and failed to meet their safety obligations under Queensland law.

There are several lessons that businesses can learn from this case:

  • It is important for you to keep up to date with changes in safety legislation or;
    • have someone who can do this as part of their job or;
    • have an external company who can keep you up to date or;
    • organise a free visit to your workplace from the legislator who can give you advice about how to manage safety in your business
  • You need to have systems and processes in place to make sure that employees are properly trained and licensed to do their job.
  • You need to ensure the systems and processes are recorded and there is a papertrail of all training, site rules etc
  • It is also important to have safe work practices in place so that employees know what they need to do to stay safe at work.
  • There should be a safety culture that ensures everyone follows the rules and no short cuts are taken
  • That an incident or injury doesn’t have to be considered very serious to get a significant fine that insurance will not pay for

If you are found to be breaching safety obligations, you can face significant fines. This case shows that it is not worth risking the safety of your employees by cutting corners on safety.

Having safe systems of work in place is essential to compliance with safety obligations. Failing to meet safety obligations can result in hefty fines.

Your fine will be referred to SPER where you can enter a repayment plan. If you don’t stick to the repayment plan, or don’t make the payment in full SPER can take the following action against you:

  • suspend your drivers licence
  • garnish your wages
  • collect from any bank accounts you have or where they can prove someone is holding money for you
  • seize and sell your property such as home and car even if share it with another person – for instance your partner

Remember! Insurance companies don’t pay your fines, they come out of your own pocket.

If you are unsure about your company’s safety obligations, it is best to seek professional advice to ensure that you are compliant. Breaching safety obligations can not only result in fines, but can also lead to serious injuries or even deaths. It is simply not worth the risk. You can also:

  • be sued and have a civil claim against you
  • have your WorkCover premiums increased
  • have your business insurance premiums increased
  • have a criminal conviction recorded
  • be sentenced to gaol

If you need advice about which of the Safe-R Outcomes package best suits your needs, please don’t hesitate to contact us on 1300 058 797. Or you can visit our ‘Industries‘ page to find what you need and get your safety sorted.

Our safety documents are always up-to-date, easy to use and implement, and aren’t full of legal jargon. We only sell you what you need, not all of the extras that you’ll never use. Plus, we will always keep you up to date with any legislation changes.

How can Safe-R Outcomes help your business?

Our Professional subscriptions contain many essential documents including:

  • WHS Management Plans / Safety Manuals
  • SWMS (if the job entails high risk tasks)
  • a range of SOPs, Registers, Toolbox Talks, Checklists and Policies

These can all be downloaded and are not blank templates, so can be used immediately.

We also provide Induction training to help you on-board new employees and contractors.

As you can see it is all done for you so it makes it nice and simple. You can find out more on the Industries and Professions page.

If you’re concerned about the time commitment and knowledge required to implement the correct documents, procedures and training for forklift safety, Safe-R Outcomes can help. We strive to reduce the time and cost for businesses to implement their legally necessary safety requirements.

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