NSW District Court has imposed an $85,000 fine on a clothing and footwear importer following a serious accident that left an employee with permanent brain damage.
The judge ruled that the firm, which employs three people, had committed a severe breach of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 when it failed to implement a secure system of work for a highly dangerous task.
In 2015, the business owner asked his son and another employee to dismantle and reassemble pallet racking when the organisation moved premises.
He had previously watched another company install and remove the racking and believed the task could be completed without professional assistance, further training or an elevated work platform.
Instead, an employee was instructed to free climb the racking, stand on the horizontal beams and assemble or disassemble beams above his head.
The worker was standing on a beam 3 metres off the ground when he fell, sustaining a serious brain injury that has left him unable to return to employment.
According to the judge, the risk of the employee falling from height was obvious and within the moderate to high likelihood range of occurring.
Simple remedial steps could have been implemented but weren't, and the injuries sustained were significant. The employee now suffers personality changes, hearing loss, difficulties with speech and ongoing seizures.
Workers compensation is available to staff who are hurt while on the job, and those who are left permanently disabled can even receive a lump sum payment. However, it is not clear whether or not the employee pursued injury compensation following the accident.
The judge considered a number of mitigating circumstances during the case, including an early guilty plea, which meant any resulting fine was reduced by 25 per cent.
The courts considered the organisation's capacity to pay a significant penalty. The owner has already sold his home to keep the enterprise afloat, with the business trading at a loss for the last four financial years.
"This is a very difficult case. The offence is an objectively serious one for which general deterrence is significant," District Court Judge Andrew Scotting said.
"The punishment imposed in this case should make it clear to other PCBUs (persons conducting a business or undertaking) that they cannot expose young workers to the risks involved with an unplanned and unsafe task, such as the present one."
Judge Scotting ultimately handed down an $85,000 fine due to the severity of the health and safety breach, despite acknowledging that the penalty could make the business owner insolvent.
Have you been injured at work? Please contact Gerard Malouf & Partners Compensation, Medical Negligence & Will Dispute Lawyers to see if you're eligible for a payout.