Learnings from a Mobile Plant Related Fatality & Dual Prosecution
On the 5th December 2005 at approximately 3:15am, a truck driver stood beside the forklift that was loading steel modules full of live chickens onto his truck, directing its operator as to where to place these modules. During the loading process, one of the 550kg steel modules already loaded, fell from its position and struck the truck driver, killing him.
Baiada Poultry Pty Ltd, a well known, Australian-owned company owns and operates the poultry farms and processing plants. The truck driver, killed in the incident was a sub-contractor to this poultry company. The forklift driver was also employed by a sub-contracted company, DMP Poultech Pty Ltd, which carries out a range of activities on behalf of Baiada, including catching chickens and loading them.
As a result of the incident WorkSafe Victoria filed prosecutions against Baiada and DMP Poultech. DMP Poultech pleaded guilty and received a prosecution and $400,000 fine on 17th April 2008. Baiada pleaded not guilty on the 14th May 2008 and went to trial. Baiada was recently convicted and fined $100,000.
What Went Wrong
Like in any incident, there are several causes / contributing factors behind this case.
- There was no process to ensure truck drivers (or other pedestrians for that matter) were separated from the operation of the mobile plant.
- The 16 year old operating the mobile plant on behalf of DMP Poultech, and ultimately Baiada, was unlicensed and not under the supervision of a licensed operator.
- To minimise stress on the chickens, the loading took part at 3am with the only lights to work by, being those on the forklift and truck.
No doubt this incident has had tragic consequences on numerous lives including families and employees from each of the 3 companies involved. What makes it worse it that, not only was it foreseeable, there had been incidents in the past from which the company(s) could have learned.
During the case, the WorkSafe prosecutors alleged that the company was aware of the risks involved because of a past, similar incident but that it failed to implement the necessary controls to protect the driver. Furthermore, included in Work Safe’s list of prosecutions is an incident from the 25th August 2003 where a truck driver visiting a Baiada site was struck by a pallet falling from a forklift and received various injuries including a fractured wrist. Whilst this incident was not under the same circumstances, in its prosecution Work Safe pointed to inadequate traffic management and pedestrian separation as the cause.
Whilst tragic, this incident provides an opportunity for all others to review their practices and related risk:
Separation of persons from mobile plant is a necessity to ensure its safe operation.
Where young and/or workers in training are undertaking hazardous tasks, adequate supervision must be provided.
When assessing the risk associated with activities, it is crucial to consider environmental factors (e.g. light) and the different conditions under which the work will be carried out. Had this story been played out during the middle of the day, it may have had a different ending.
Sub-contracting work does not diminish responsibility for ensuring safe work practices.
For more information…
For more information on this incident, visit Work Safe Victoria’s web site.