Frewstal fined $250,000 over livestock driver’s death

A company was convicted and fined $250,000 in the County Court this week over the death of a driver who died when a loading ramp he was standing on collapsed at an abattoir in Stawell.

Frewstal Pty Ltd pleaded guilty to three counts under the 2004 OHS Act of failing to ensure that people other than its own employees were not exposed to risks to their health or safety.

The court was told that the incident took place on 14 September 2013 at Frewstal's abattoir in Stawell as the driver was unloading a shipment of lambs.

The driver was on the loading ramp when the hoist he was using to move the ramp broke apart above him and the ramp collapsed. He suffered severe head injuries and was taken to Stawell Hospital before being airlifted to Melbourne. He died several weeks later.

Acting executive director of Health and Safety, Leanne Hughson, said issues around the company’s decision to alter the design of the hoist, a lack of maintenance, and poor driver training in relation to the loading ramp and hoist had an all too familiar ring to them.

“A lack of maintenance and a lack of training are common causes of serious injuries and fatalities in workplaces across the state,” Ms Hughson said.

“And, far too often, WorkSafe investigators will discover that an incident has been caused by a piece of machinery being altered without due regard for the safety implications.

“WorkSafe will continue to prosecute employers who fail to understand that there can never be shortcuts when it comes to safety.”

The court was told an investigation at Frewstal’s abattoir had revealed that a lug on the loading ramp hoist had failed “catastrophically”.

The court heard that when a new loading ramp and safety mechanism was installed at the abattoir in 2010, the hoist lug was moved 300mm. However, the new position made it more susceptible to fatigue damage, stress and corrosion.

The court was told that the company had failed to get expert opinion about the design change before moving the lug, and then failed to regularly inspect the hoist system during regular maintenance checks of the loading ramp.

The company had also failed to put in place a system to train, direct or induct drivers to the use of the loading ramp and hoist.

The court heard that in order to lower the loading ramp, a safety bar had to be manually disengaged. It had to be manually re-engaged once the loading ramp had been moved into its new position.

The court was told that the driver had not been adequately trained in the safety bar’s operation and the safety bar had not been engaged when the loading ramp collapsed.

Ms Hughson said the health and safety failures in relation to the abattoir’s loading ramp meant the risk of a serious injury – or worse – kept growing.

“The decision to move the hoist lug without first assessing the engineering consequences was a critical error,” Ms Hughson said. “The failure to keep an eye on this vital part of machinery during regular maintenance checks also created a serious risk.

“Tragically, these poor decisions have resulted in another workplace fatality, and another family mourning the loss of a loved one.”