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Forklift negligence results in $90K fine

A NSW based scaffolding company was fined $90,000 after they allowed an employee to operate a forklift without having a valid licence.  Their actions resulted in a construction worker being crushed and seriously injured after scaffolding material fell on top of him. 

The company failed to confirm whether an employee, Mr. Evers, held a current forklift licence prior to allowing him to operate a forklift to move dismantled scaffolding pieces from one location to another when the regular driver was unavailable.

At the time that Mr. Evers knowingly agreed to operate a forklift despite not holding the required high-risk work licence, the injured person, Mr. Rice, was cleaning up rubbish from around the work area. Upon seeing Mr. Rice, Mr. Evers immediately braked which caused the load to rock prior to falling on top of him and knocking him to the ground.

Mr. Rice sustained serious injuries including:

  • a ‘bruised pelvis,
  • crushing trauma,
  • a torn ligament, and
  • soft tissue damage.

His injuries resulting in him being hospitalised for 12 days and having to wear a leg brace for six weeks.

As part of its safety management system, the employer did have:

  • a SafeWork Method Statement in place which required employees to have a current WorkCover license for operating the forklift.
  • an induction process that all employees had to undertake before operating the forklift along with a signed agreement, however Mr. Evers was reportedly unaware of this agreement and had not read or signed it. 

However it was determined that while unlicensed operators were expressly prohibited from using the forklift, there was no procedure in place to ensure that only licensed operators were given access to the key. The employer also failed to implement safe traffic management procedures at the site. 

The employer pleaded guilty to the offence of failing to comply with its health and safety duty under s19 (1) of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (the Act) and exposing an employee to a risk of death and serious injury contrary to s 32 of the Act. 

In determining the outcome, the Judge took into consideration the objective seriousness of the offence and found the risk was ‘obvious, identifiable and foreseeable’ and that the company had failed to take reasonable steps to ensure that those operating the forklift had valid licenses.

The offender's lack of prior convictions, good character, unlikelihood of reoffending and the prospects of rehabilitation were considered as mitigating factors.

The court convicted the offender and imposed a fine of $120,000, which it then reduced by 25% due to a guilty plea having been entered.

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