A Northern Territory cattle mustering contractor has been ordered to pay $20,000 in compensation to a young ringer who suffered severe burns in an AVGAS explosion on the remote Montejinni Station, 320 kilometres south-west of Katherine.
The 18-year-old employee was left for six days, with first and second degree burns, before he was taken to hospital.
Aaron Kerr, trading as Kerr Contracting and Co, pleaded guilty in the Darwin Local Court on Wednesday to two charges of reckless conduct risking death or injury.
“This is the first time the courts have made this order [for compensation] and it is separate to the workers compensation entitlements the injured worker received,” an NT Worksafe spokesman said in a statement.
The court heard the young employee, who asked not to be identified, and a colleague were using a battery-powered angle grinder to cut the lid off an AVGAS drum, after washing it out, when residual gas ignited and exploded, in April 2019.
The employee suffered severe burns to his hands, arms, face, and airways.
Court documents show Kerr and another staff member “decided that the burns were not that severe,” despite the young staffer telling them his pain was “10 out of 10”.
The ringer was taken to the homestead, where the station operations manager was told the injuries were the result of lighting a gas barbecue.
According to the documents, over following days, the employee complained of a fever, sore throat, cramping and bleeding from his bowel, but was required to return to work four days later to move cattle.
In a statement, NT Worksafe — the Northern Territory’s Work Health and Safety Regulator — said the first aid facilities were so basic that treatment included unboiled bore water mixed with veterinary antiseptic used to treat the burns.
The regulator said the young ringer was “mocked and verbally abused by Mr Kerr”.
The court documents show, approximately 500 metres from the station, the staffer said he was unable to manage his horse across a small creek due to the burns on his hands.
Kerr yelled words to the effect of: “F* off home you sooky c*”.
It was not until six days after the explosion that the 18-year-old was taken to the emergency room at Katherine Hospital, where he was quickly transported to Royal Darwin Hospital for treatment.
He suffered first and second degree burns to seven percent of his body, which had become infected, and internal haemorrhaging.
In its statement, NT WorkSafe said Kerr had a duty of care to protect the young ringer.
“Mr Kerr, in this incident, has totally and absolutely failed in his duty,” said NT WorkSafe boss Bill Esteves.
“It would appear the culture of his workplace was one of stoicism, where people were expected to harden up, just get on with the job.”
Mr Esteves said more than half a dozen people at Montejinni Station were aware of the ringer’s burns and no-one had intervened.
“In fact, when he was finally transported off the station, he was left alone at the Top Springs Hotel to fend for himself,” said Mr Esteves.
A passer-by drove the ringer almost 300 kilometres to Katherine Hospital.
Aaron Kerr was ordered to pay $20,000 in compensation to the injured employee and given a two-year good behaviour bond.