It’s no secret that rural workplaces pose high risks for both employees and employers. Recent figures released by Safe Work Australia in their 21019 Work-related Traumatic Injury Fatalities, Australia report show that the agriculture, forestry and fishing industry, with 30 fatalities, was the second highest in terms of overall fatalities in 2019. (Transport, postal and warehousing accounted for the highest with 58 fatalities and construction was the third highest with 26).
With sobering figures like this, following correct procedures when servicing and maintaining rural plant should always be a high priority. This issue has recently come to the fore once again following a fatal incident on a North Queensland sugar cane farm that has resulted in a $150,000 fine for the business owner.
The incident, which occurred in 2017, involved three workers including the company director. While harvesting cane, a vehicle developed a hydraulic line leak. Believing it was a hose that needed tightening, the director instructed the driver to fix the fitting. The man did the repair alone, but around 20 minutes later, another colleague discovered the driver had been crushed to death between the haul-out vehicle and a stationary bulk fuel trailer.
What went wrong?
Although the company had a system in place for field repairs such as this – whereby one of its mechanics would be called in to do such a job – on this occasion, the process wasn’t followed. According to findings, the director believed it was an ‘easy fix’ that could be carried out by the driver. Further evidence indicated the driver had attempted to fix the problem without turning off the machine first.
It was revealed that the company directors, one of which has diesel mechanic qualifications, had previously told the driver not to work on a machine when it was operating. This instruction however, had not been given to the driver on the day of the incident.
How could it have been prevented?
According to the operator manual for the vehicle and the Rural Plant Code of Practice 2004, the company should have banned workers doing field repairs single-handedly to protect staff.
In addition to strictly following plant servicing protocols, carrying out regular safety and servicing checks of plant and machinery would also reduce the likelihood of such incidents occurring.
For more information on this incident, please visit WorkSafe.
It could happen to anyone
Unfortunately, here is another example of a life lost too soon due to poor plant safety practices. In this particular incident the company had sound protocols in place, but as we have regrettably seen too many times, it only takes one slip up to have life-altering consequences.
As the figures show, when it comes to rural plant extra precautions must be taken in all circumstances, even those that seem low risk. There can be no shortcuts when it comes to workplace safety, but this doesn’t mean it has to be an overly time-consuming or complicated process.
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Disclaimer: This information is intended to provide general information on the subject matter. This is not intended as legal or expert advice for your specific situation. You should seek professional advice before acting or relying on the content of this information.