The death of a 33-year-old employee in a workplace accident has seen an Australian manufacturer slapped with a $400,000 penalty, as 2019 surpasses last year in terms of workplace fatalities.
WorkSafe Victoria revealed that Wodonga-based steel fabricator SJ & TA Structural had pleaded guilty in the Wodonga County Court (pictured) to one count of failing to provide a safe workplace.
The charge related to the August 2016 death of an unnamed worker, who was crushed between two steel staircases weighing as much as 3.6 tonnes each.
In a statement, WorkSafe said that the business had used scrap wood to separate the stacked staircases, and that the employee had been detaching crane hooks between these staircases when the dividing timber broke, causing the staircases to collapse on top of him.
“The court heard that to ensure the safety of its employees, it had been reasonably practicable for SJ & TA Structural to use wooden sleepers, rather than scrap wood, or to not stack the staircases at all,” the agency said.
According to Julie Nielsen, executive director of health and safety at WorkSafe, the fatal accident could have been avoided had proper safety measures been put in place at the workshop.
“Using poor-quality scrap wood to separate steel items weighing as much as 3.6 tonnes is simply unacceptable,” she said.
“WorkSafe will not hesitate to prosecute employers who expose their workers to the risk of death or serious injury by not taking workplace health and safety issues seriously.”
SJ & TA Structural was approached for comment on the matter.
According to its website, the business has been in operation since 1994, and currently occupies a 1,100 sq m workshop in Wodonga.
2019 a deadly year at Aussie workplaces
There have been 152 workplace deaths so far in 2019 (as of 5 December), Safe Work Australia figures show, already making this year more deadly than the whole of 2018 (136 deaths).
Transport, postal and warehousing remains the most dangerous sector with 54 deaths this year, a sharp rise on the 41 fatalities recorded in 2018.
Somewhat ironically, public administration and safety has the fifth-highest rate of workplace deaths this year at seven, almost doubling last year’s tally of four.
Vehicular accidents accounted for almost a third (31 per cent) of all employee deaths in 2018, Safe Work Australia figures show.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.