Farm safety has been put in the spotlight with a Werribee vegetable grower convicted and fined $80,000 after a woman was run-over by a truck reversing from a machinery shed.
A man who ran a labour hire company which supplied workers to the property was also fined $15,000.
The company, J & K Zausa Investments Pty Ltd and Perica Simic who ran a labour hire company were prosecuted after the death of Katerina Hrecesin, 61, who died in December 2008.
WorkSafe’s Director of Operations, Lisa Sturzenegger, said the penalties were significant for small businesses and should send a clear message about the commercial impact of what can happen when appropriate standards are not in place or maintained.
“Traffic management has to be a priority on all farms, just as in other workplaces. Not ensuring there are systems in place to control the risk of collision between people and vehicles has serious consequences.”
County Court Judge Irene Lawson was told WorkSafe’s investigation into the death of Ms Hrecesin found traffic management at the Werribee South farm was poor and that a number of safety improvements had to be made after the incident.
These included marked walkways, plastic bollards and chains, as well as signage and induction of new workers.
The court was told although the truck’s reversing beeper was working, the driver did not see the woman, who other workers said had bent down to pick-up something off the ground.
The other defendant, company director Perica Simic, also pleaded guilty to workplace health and safety charges including one in his role as the director of the labour hire firm, Agriculture King Pty Ltd, which is no longer trading.
Ms Sturzenegger said that in this case it was a harvesting period, so the risks were elevated.
“This issue can be applied at any farm in the state, however in the market gardening sector the risks must be magnified because of the constant use of vehicles and machinery and the fact that several crops might be grown each year.
“This case demonstrates that safety responsibilities are shared between the host employer and the labour hire firm, and that identifying and dealing with safety issues must be done before someone is hurt, not after.
“This is an issue for farms which employ their own people and labour hire firms which are a big part of the rural economy, particularly at the busiest times of the year.
“This incident is a reminder to labour hire companies to ensure the places their people are sent meet appropriate standards.”
HELP FOR FARMERS
Ms Sturzenegger said regional Victoria already had a higher rate of work-related deaths than its population would warrant and that death rate was magnified in the farm sector.
“Our primary role is to help and support businesses protect their workers and their investment, but the law will be enforced.
“WorkSafe has produced a considerable amount of guidance material to help farmers and companies involved in farming to maximise safety, including the 15 minute farm safety check which helps with the identification of common hazards and how they can be eliminated.”
A series of case studies on labour hire has also been published. This publication provides information for companies hiring through labour hire agencies and information for agencies on their OHS obligations.
WorkSafe also funds a free and confidential three hour safety assessment by an independent consultant. Information on this program can be found at WorkSafe’s website, www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/smallbusiness or from the Victorian Farmers Federation.
J and K Azusa Investments Pty Ltd
- Sections 21 (1) and (2)(a) & (e) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004: These sections refer to the need for employers to provide and maintain a safe workplace for employees (and deemed employees) and the need to provide appropriate information, instruction, training and supervision.
- Section 144 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 specifically deals with the responsibilities of officers of bodies corporate.
- Section 21 (1) and (2)(a) & (e) of the Act requires bodies corporate to, so far as is reasonably practicable, ensure that employees and persons other than employees have a workplace that is safe and without risks to health including plant and systems of work.