Barwon South West region ‘significantly over-represented’ in occupational health and safety cases

Businesses in Geelong caught breaching occupational health and safety (OHS) guidelines are being hit with some of the highest fines in the state.

New data released by the Victorian Sentencing Advisory Council on Tuesday showed the Barwon South West region, especially in Geelong, was “ significantly over-represented” in OHS cases.

The region had 13 per cent of cases and 14 per cent of charges, despite only six per cent of businesses being based in the area.

The data notes the “over-representation” could be due to Work Safe’s offices being located in Geelong, making the region a more likely choice for prosecutions.

Council chief executive Dr Paul McGorrery said sentencing outcomes for health and safety offences played a “critical role” in ensuring workplaces were safe.

“Fines for unsafe work practices should not be seen as just the cost of doing business, especially if many fines are going unpaid,” he said.

“This is a topic that affects everyone.”

In the past 12 months, $220,000 worth of fines were handed out in the Geelong Magistrates Court to companies breaching the OHS Act, with 14 companies fined.

The penalties ranged from $4000 to $35,000.

From 2005-06 and 2020-21, the average fine for employer breaches of duty offences in the Barwon South West region was more than $52,000.

This was higher than averages from other regions in the state, which were about $30,000.

“One of the most significant predictors of fine amount is whether someone was injured or killed in an incident,” Dr McGorrery said.

“There is no way to control that by region so it may simply be a representation (of those cases).”

The smallest fine in the Barwon South West region was $750 and the largest was $379,175.

The council is calling for health and safety experts, employers, employee representatives and members of the wider community to have their say on how sentencing of OHS offences can be improved.

“These are issues that the community have a right to have a say on,” Dr McGorrery said.

St Joseph’s College, Newtown (fined $23,800 with convictions)
In June 2018, a teacher was using the table saw to cut a piece of timber during a Year 9 woodworking class.

The timber was being pushed length way onto the saw blade with a timber push stick and a piece of timber was ejected from the cutting area.

One piece of the timber struck a student who sustained lacerations to the forehead and chin (including damage to a nerve and muscle in his forehead).

Queenscliff Boatyard Pty Ltd (fined $25,000)
On September 19, 2019 two apprentice mechanics were using a forklift to transport a gearbox taken from the back of a coast guard boat to a workshop for servicing.

One of the apprentices operating the forklift came into contact with the other person’s right heel and bent his boot over, resulting in a chipped bone and damage to ligaments.

The company acknowledged that it failed to provide or maintain a safe system of work for the removal of a boat engine.

Sentenal Technologies Pty Ltd (fined $32k, with convictions)
In September 2021, a WorkSafe inspector saw unsafe work practices on the roof of an industrial warehouse in Corio.

Five of the offender’s employees were working on that roof, seemingly installing or removing roofing components.

The court heard the workers had no harnesses and the footings of the edge protection rails were still installed, but the rails had been removed, so that there was no edge protection and employees were working in its vicinity.

Victorian Pet Food Processes (fined 35k)

The company, which operates multiple knackeries, faced charges related to a dangerous task involving cow hide removal.

The task, performed by two workers, posed serious injury risks due to potential miscommunication during the winch-operated process.

In May 2019, two workers were performing the task and while one worker was still fitting the chain, the winch pulled, which trapped that worker’s hand causing the worker’s wrist to be nearly completely pulled off.

Source: Geelong Advertiser

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