Australia’s largest meat processing company has been fined $150,000 over a workplace incident that left a Tasmanian worker with burns to the lower half of his body and ongoing psychological impacts.
John Kiriona-Hodge was 19 when he slipped and fell into a tub of near-boiling tripe washing water at JBS Australia’s Longford abattoir in November 2016.
Today — four years on from the incident — Mr Kiriona-Hodge sat in the Magistrates Court in Launceston as his former employer was convicted of workplace safety breaches and sentenced. The company had pleaded guilty to failing to comply with its health and safety duty and breaching its duty to consult workers following the incident, and faced a maximum penalty of $1.6 million. JBS had also previously been charged with reckless conduct over the incident, but was found not guilty of that offence after a hearing in 2019.
Magistrate Simon Brown said Mr Kiriona-Hodge was one of a number of workers who serviced a tripe cooker at the abattoir back in 2016. He said the tripe — the lining of a cow’s stomach — was rinsed in a wash tub and then lifted into a raised basket. From there, it would be tipped into a tripe cooker. But the court heard the tripe often got stuck in the basket, as the company had switched from using bleach to wash it, to hot water.
“This was not a problem prior to May 2016 as the tripe was washed in bleach … that stopped it from sticking,” Mr Brown said. Mr Brown said JBS provided workers with a 30-centimetre step and a metal pole to help free the tripe in the basket, but that method was often unsuccessful.
The court heard on the day of Mr Kiriona-Hodge’s incident, November 23, 2016, he had stepped onto the side of the wash tub and used his hands to try and remove the sticking tripe. While doing that, he slipped and fell into the water that was heated to around 80 degrees. He received second and third degree burns to his lower legs and feet.
In sentencing JBS, Mr Brown said the action Mr Kiriona-Hodge took to un-stick the tripe was an “obvious one” and was often used by other staff. The magistrate said while JBS had tried to address the issue by providing the step, pole and reducing the tripe wash water temperature — they were “inadequate” measures.
“The issue of sticking tripe was well know to the defendant,” Mr Brown said. “The issue had not been properly addressed … the problem was simply left to linger. Mr Kiriona-Hodge and his workmate soldiered on.”
Mr Brown said the company’s early plea of guilty to the charges reflected its remorse. Outside court, Mr Kiriona-Hodge said he still remembered the day of the incident.
“I went to work just like every other day and I was just doing my job,” Mr Kiriona-Hodge said. He said it was “common practice” to unstick the tripe as he attempted to. “A lot of other people were doing it, I was shown how to do it,” he said.
“The pole [provided] would bend under the weight of the tripe so it would be impractical to use it.” Mr Kiriona-Hodge said the past four years had been “stressful” but he was glad the court case “has a full stop on it now”. “It’s good to know that they’re in a way paying for it, but at the same time I still walk away paying for it.”
The now 23-year-old said he had scars down much of the lower part of his body from the burns and skin grafts.
“I still dream about the nonsense,” he said.
“My feet look dirty to other people and mentally it’s still a grind. I’ve still got to go to see a councillor and psychologist and other hospital appointments still and it’s four years this month.”
Source: ABC News