A Burdekin sugar cane farmer has been fined $35,000 after one of his workers suffered serious burns in a cane fire. The worker required multiple skin grafts following the incident on a Jarvisfield farm on August 19, 2017.
The farmer this week faced the Ayr Magistrates Court where he pleaded guilty to breaching s.32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, for having failed to meet his work health and safety duties. The court was told that the injured man was providing contract sugar cane harvesting services on the property where the fire was lit.
On the day in question, about half of the remaining crop had been harvested without prior burning, leaving sugar cane trash on the ground. The Office of the Work Health and Safety prosecutor told the court fires were lit among the standing cane and the trash field when the injured worker noticed the wind had changed and was concerned he was trapped.
He attempted to run out of the burning paddock, but tripped and fell, receiving burns to the exposed skin on his face, hands and legs. He was then able to make his way out of the burning trash onto grass on the edge of the paddock. The court was told the lighting of the trash blanket when the injured worker was lighting the standing cane, created a risk of being trapped between the two fire fronts, which ultimately led to his injuries.
The injured worker and the other two workers were not wearing any fire-retardant clothing, nor were any of the workers equipped with two-way radios or any other form of communication.
The injured worker required multiple skin grafts and further laser surgery on his thumbs to regain full movement and has suffered a psychological injury as a result of the incident. The magistrate found the possible consequences of the two fires – the standing sugar cane fire and the trash blanket fire – were death or serious injury. They said the probability of such a consequence was obvious and not remote, when methods to prevent or minimise the incident were readily available and included using two-way radios, protective clothing, and simple procedures to coordinate the two fires.
The defendant had been a sugar cane farmer for over 45 years and had not had a similar incident in that time. He was fined $35,000 and ordered to pay court costs of $1,596.15. No conviction was recorded.
Source: The North Queenslander