$99,000 fines after 900kg clay cargo bag falls on NSW worker

Date: Dec 19, 2011

The New South Wales industrial court has fined a business and its director a total of $99,000 after it was found that they had failed to provide a safe working environment.

Balmain-based company Bulk Maritime Terminals (BMT) was involved in the storage and transport of dry goods to and from client properties in 2009 when an accident occurred that saw one worker require multiple surgeries.

On September 17 two employees were unloading clay powder from a number of large bags into a tanker truck as part of their normal work activities.

The packages contained vast quantities of the dry material and weighed around 900 kilograms each – requiring the use of an overhead gantry crane

One worker was operating the device, lifting the bags to the height of the heavy vehicle's trailer where the second worker – who was secured to the top of the tanker – would open the bag and carefully transfer the clay powder into the container.

The court heard that one of the massive bags managed to fall off the crane's hook while it was being lifted up for decanting.

It fell to the ground, knocking over then landing on the gantry crane's operator and pinning him under the whole 900 kilograms of clay.

He suffered severe injuries from the accident and required a number of surgeries during which time he was understandably unable to work.

The court found that BMT had failed to provide a safe working environment and fined the company a total of $90,000 – as well as ordering it to pay for WorkCover's legal expenses.

In particular the firm was found to have not delivered an effective and hazard-free method of decanting the clay into the tanker despite carrying out a hazard identification assessment.

As a result the company was not in a position to offer adequate information or training to its staff members on how to use the gantry crane when dealing with heavy cargo that required hands-on transferal.

The company's director was also convicted under Occupational Health and Safety laws and fined $9,000.

While injured workers are able to gain payments through a compensation lawyer on a no win no fee basis, WorkCover's division general manager of Work Health and Safety John Watson said that it was "critically important" for employees to be given the right level of training and instruction.

"Working with heavy machinery in any environment can be dangerous," Watson asserted.

"That is why every precaution must be taken to protect workers."

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