Cropping operation fined

A Darling Downs cropping operation has been fined $75,000 over a workplace accident where a worker was caught in a trench after it collapsed.

Culverthorpe Pty Ltd, Pampas has been fined following a hearing in the Toowoomba Magistrates Court over the May 2017 incident, which saw 48-year-old farm hand Russell Ballard become trapped in a trench.

Mr Ballard and two other workers employed by business directors Clive and Helen Brownlie were involved in the works, which involved the excavating and then laying of large pipes under a railway line to provide irrigation to a nearby cotton field.

Queensland Rail had granted Culverthorpe an agreement allowing the works, with one condition that the trench had to be at least three metres deep.

In support of the application to Queensland Rail, the defendant prepared a two paged work method statement which briefly described the work to be undertaken and included a cross section map of the proposed excavation indicating that the walls of the trench would be terraced to avoid the risk of collapse.

The project manager was to ensure that shoring was sufficient.

On May 3, 2017, the three workers started trenching work, excavating a trench 3.6 metres deep and 1.8-2m wide. While some attempt was made at benching the trench, it fell short of the Excavation Code of Practice 2013.

The following afternoon, the western wall of the trench collapsed while the three workers were in it. While the other two workers escaped, Mr Ballard was trapped from the waist down for 15 minutes, with his hips pinned to the side of the trench.

Mr Ballard suffered several pelvic fractures requiring surgery and was in hospital for a month.

Since the incident, the defendant has undertaken a range of safety initiatives including training.

In his decision Magistrate Graham Lee found that the workers had not received appropriate training in trench excavations.

“At best for the defendant, insufficient thought was given to identifying the hazard, namely a collapse of the trench wall,” he said.

“Secondly, it has failed to adequately assess the risk, identify which workers are at risk, the cause of the risk and then determine appropriate control measures that should be implemented.

“Thirdly, there was no control of any risks with the aim of eliminating them.

“The attempt at some benching or battering did not come close to complying with the process above.”

While the company indicated they were willing to have a conviction recorded, Mr Lee chose not to record a conviction noting that while the offence was serious, ” it is not so serious as to warrant the recording of a conviction for a first offence committed by the defendant who is a good corporate citizen and otherwise of good character”.

Source: Queensland Country Life

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