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WorkSafe Victoria’s views on workplace safety enforcement

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A County Court judge has imposed Victoria’s high fine on a single workplace safety charge, but the fine is unlikely to be paid because the business has ceased trading.

County Court Judge, Joe Gullaci, has convicted and fined DMP Poultech $400,000, after it pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to take care of the safety of people other than employees.

Judge Gullaci said parliament should review laws, so that company directors are made more accountable. Fifty-four year old truck driver Mario Azzopardi died in December 2005, when a 550kg steel module fell from his truck at a poultry farm in Bungower Road, Moorooduc. 

WorkSafe Victoria’s executive director, John Merritt said the high fine sent a strong message to anyone with responsibilities under Victoria’s health and safety laws.

“This is a significant increase on the previous high fine for a single charge and is a sign that the courts are increasingly reflecting community views that poor workplace safety standards are not acceptable”

Camden Neon was fined $300,000 in the County Court in September 2007, after the death of a worker, who was changing light bulbs at a Coburg car yard.

“If you do not take your obligations seriously or understand them; if you do not do everything you can to make your workplace as safe as practicable, there are serious legal and commercial consequences.

“While this fine will not be paid, the company is out of business, a life has been lost, people have lost their jobs and the ongoing human impact is immeasurable.”

Judge Joe Gullaci said the company’s moral culpability was high. The court was told that early in the morning of 5 December 2005, chickens were caught by a team of workers and loaded into crates, which were then placed into steel modules and loaded on to a truck.

The chickens were caught and loaded at night and in low light conditions to reduce stress to the birds. A 16-year-old youth, who did not have a forklift licence or formal training, was loading the last of the modules on to the truck, as Mario Azzopardi began securing the load.

As he re-positioned a module, the forklift driver had difficulty with the procedure and as he reversed with an empty module, a full one fell striking Mario Azzopardi.

The court was told there were no procedures to stop truck drivers entering the area, where the forklift was operating and that DMP Poultech employees knew modules could fall as it had happened before.

John Merritt said the death was yet another warning of the need to ensure forklifts and other mobile equipment were well separated from pedestrians.

“The hazard of falling loads is well known across industry. Out of 56 people, who have died in forklift related incidents since 1985, 15 were pedestrians.

“Simple, straightforward remedial steps are available and they are affordable. Tragically in this case, like so many others, they were only implemented after someone died,” said John Merritt.

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