A Melbourne manufacturer has been slugged with a $600,000 fine over the death of a young apprentice, who suffocated in a tanker just 10 days after starting a work placement.
Marshall Lethlean Industries, based in Cranbourne West, was convicted and fined over the death of trainee welder Dillon Wu almost four years ago.
Mr Wu, 20, was cleaning the tanker when he collapsed after breathing in argon gas. The gas was leaking into the tanker because a welder and a defective and unserviced wire feeder had been left there overnight.
He died on the factory floor about 40 minutes after a WorkSafe inspector, who was there on another matter, had left.
At the time the company, which was in the middle of moving sites, was considering new safety proposals after an inspection.
It pleaded guilty to a single charge of failing to ensure that a workplace is safe.
Judge Douglas Trapnell on Friday denounced the company.
“There was a total failure by the company to establish and maintain a system of work to eliminate or reduce the risk that eventuated,” the judge said.
“There were three separate failures which all contributed to the risk which eventuated.
“If any one of these safety procedures, mainly inspection and servicing of the welder, removal of the welder from the tank overnight, or turning off the argon gas flow at the end of the shift had been observed the incident would not have happened.”
Profound effect on family detailed in court
In October 2018, Mr Wu went to work and was given the job of cleaning out the tanker, which is usually a job for first-year apprentices.
Court documents revealed that the job was “hand-balled” to him from another apprentice, who did not turn the argon gas supply off after he had finished the night before.
Witnesses later told investigators that the job is usually done without supervision, a spotter or gas detectors.
At 8:55am, another apprentice kicked the tanker which Mr Wu was working in to let him know that it was time for a smoke break.
He did not see Mr Wu, which did not raise any alarm because he was a “quiet kid”.
The County Court heard that the incident probably happened about half an hour later, when another worker noticed that the apprentice had “gone down” in the tank.
“He looked blue in the lips and pale in the face,” Judge Trapnell said.
Two workers tried to lift Mr Wu out of the tank before they strapped him into a harness and moved him out.
Desperate colleagues tried to perform CPR on the young man but he died at the scene.
Judge Trapnell said Mr Wu’s death had profoundly affected his family, including his father and mother.
“His son’s image often appears in his head which leads him to make mistakes at work,” he said.
“His wife stopped working because of his son’s death.
“Their son’s girlfriend was pregnant at the time of his death, and has since had an abortion.”
Matt Ryan, who worked with Mr Wu at Marshall Lethlean, said his and other employees’ safety concerns to the company fell on deaf ears.
“The company was warned by many of their employees on the floor that there were significant breaches of safety going on at the place before the incident,” he said.
“It’s like hitting your head against a brick wall trying to tell them in the end — your calls for help and to fix things were gone unchecked and unnoticed.
“It was all about profits in the end and to get the product out, with the guys on the floor’s safety and their lives disregarded.”
Mr Ryan left the company several weeks after the incident.
“I tried to go back, but I just couldn’t walk through those doors again after what happened,” he said.
He urged companies to listen to workers and not cut corners on safety.
“At the end of the day, we all deserve to go home to our families,” he said.
WorksSafe investigators later found that a gas valve fitted to the wire feeder had become jammed in the open position, letting argon welding gas flow into the atmosphere through the torch.
Judge Trapnell said safety should be “paramount” in all workplaces.
“I find the company took no steps to ensure against the risk of injury or death associated with a gas leak from defective welding equipment,” he said.
“The available steps are accessible, relatively low cost and in the case of turning off a gas main, no cost at all.
“In my opinion that conduct amounts to evident disregard by the company for the safety of Mr Wu and others at its workplace.”
But Judge Trapnell said he accepted that the company did not know that the welder or wire feeder was faulty.
“I accept the company … deeply regrets the loss of Mr Wu’s Life and is remorseful,” he said.
The County Court heard that the company had made “significant changes” including more staff training, supervision and the hiring of external safety consultants.
Judge Trapnell extended his condolences to Mr Wu’s loved ones.
“I want to say on behalf of the Victorian community how tragic the loss of your son and partner is in these circumstances,” he said.
“I do hope that as a result of this proceeding … there may be some closure.”
Source: ABC News