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Prosecution Details

Defendant Australian Countertop Pty Ltd (ACN 128 740 125)
Section 19(1),19A(2) and 3A(3)(b)(i)
Offence Date 1 December 2011
Description of Breach(es)

The Accused, being an employer, failed so far as was practicable to provide and maintain a working environment in which its employees were not exposed to hazards and by that contravention caused serious harm to an employee contrary to sections 19(1) and 19(2) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984.

Background Details

Australian Countertop Pty Ltd (ACT) conducts a bench top manufacture and installation business under the trading name Australian Counter Top. ACT operates at a premises located at 36 King Street, Bayswater in the State of Western Australia. At the premises, ACT has an administration facility, workshops and a storage yard.

As at 1 December 2011, ACT was an employer of approximately 31 employees.

Part of the business of ACT includes taking delivery of slabs of stone which are stored in the workshop ready to be made into bench tops.

Stone slabs are usually delivered to ACT on a flatbed truck. The slabs are various sizes, but usually around 3060mm x 1410mm x 20mm. The average weight of a stone slab is 220kg.

To unload the slabs, the truck driver stays on the flat bed of the truck and an employee of ACT uses a forklift with a boom attachment to lift the slabs into the workshop.

The truck driver unties the slabs and places a wedge between them and the remaining slabs on the frame or stand.

A boom is attached to the tines of the forklift and a scissor type lifting clamp which is fitted on the end of a boom.

The clamp is specifically known as an Aardwolf Lifting Clamp 50.

The forklift operator places the boom over the slabs so that the clamp is centred over the slab.

The clamp has a locking latch, referred to as a "clip", which the truck driver releases before the clamp is lowered on to the slab. The clip must be released to allow the clamp to clasp the slab.

With the clip released, as the boom is lifted the clamp automatically engages, lifting the slab.

The slab is then lifted off of the truck, lowered closer to the ground and taken into the workshop in a vertical position.

A second person usually walks in front of the forklift and guides the leading edge of the slab into the workshop where the storage racks are located.

The slab is manoeuvred between the racks.

The person that was guiding the slab usually stands at the end of the rack and assists in manoeuvring the slab into position.

Once the slab is in position, the forklift operator lowers the boom so that the base of the slab is resting on the rack.

At this point, the person that was guiding the slab goes in between the racks and pushes the bottom of the slab deeper into the rack so that it abuts the rack or the slab on the rack. This is usually done by kicking the bottom of the slab. The process is then repeated.

On 1 December 2011 at approximately 9:30am, a truck delivering 40 slabs of stone arrived at ACT.

A supervisor asked a stonemason to unload the slabs.

Two stonemasons unloaded the slabs.

One of the stonemason's drove a Komatsu forklift owned by ACT out to the delivery truck. Although he was described as "one of the most competent", the stonemason did not have a forklift licence and ACT was aware of this.

The truck driver stood on the flat bed of the truck and the stonemason stood on the ground beside the forklift.

In accordance with the procedure described above, the stonemason in the forklift lifted two slabs off of the truck and drove them into the workshop to be stacked. The other stonemason walked in front of the forklift guiding the slabs in to the workshop.

The slabs were 3060mm x 1410mm x 20mm and weighed 235kg each.

The slabs were to be stacked in the workshop on A-frame storage racks. There were four A-frame storage racks in a row where slabs were frequently stored. As each A-frame has two usable sides, there were 8 locations were slabs could be stored.

The stonemason placed the two slabs in line with the rack on which they were to be placed. This was the left side of the A-frame rack farthest to the right (or the fourth A-frame). There were already slabs of stone on both the left and right side of that A-frame as well as on both sides of the A-frames to the left (the third A-frame).

The stonemason then drove the forklift forward so that the two slabs were positioned over the rack and commenced lowering the slabs onto the rack.

Once the slabs were resting on the A-frame, but still in the clamp, the other stonemason walked to the centre of the slabs and pushed the base of the slabs with his foot so that they slide in close to the slabs that were already on the A-frame. At that point, the other stonemason was standing between the slabs being stored on the right side of the third A-frame and the slabs being held by the forklift.

The stonemason in the forklift then lowered the forklift a little further so that the A-frame was taking the majority of the weight of the slabs. The other stonemason, still in the centre of the slabs, reached up to the clamp and assisted with removing the clamp from the slabs.

At that point, four slabs from the third rack which were directly behind the stonemason in the centre of the slabs fell off the A-frame and towards the stonemason.

The stonemason was struck in the back by the falling slabs which knocked him down. As the stonemason fell down the falling slabs pinned the stonemason's head between the falling slabs and the slabs that were being held by the forklift.

As a result, the stonemason suffered fatal injuries to his head.

The stonemason that was working on the forklift attempted to remove the fallen slabs but was unable to do so alone. It required a number of others to help free the victim from between the slabs.

A slab of stone falling from an A-frame storage rack was a hazard.

That hazard is common knowledge in the stonemason industry. Slabs of stone have been known to fall if the racking is knocked or even a strong gust of wind can dislodge a slab from a rack.

Employees that were exposed to that hazard were at risk of suffering serious or fatal injuries.

The employees that were exposed to the hazard at ACT included the stonemasons and other employees such as "the acrylic guys" who were known to help out with loading and unloading from time to time.

Employees were commonly exposed to the hazard at the time they were loading slabs onto the rack, when they were pushing the bottom of the slab into position. Employees were also commonly exposed to the hazard at the time they were taking slabs from the racking and were going in between the racks to release the clip on the clamp.

It was practicable for the Accused to have done one or more of the following:

(a) store slabs of stone in post and rail racks; and

(b) train and instruct employees to load and unload slabs of stone from the post and rail racks without going in between the slabs of stone.

In addition to the A-frame storage racks that were being used, ACT had post and rail racking in its workshop. However, the posts were not large enough to accommodate the slabs being delivered on 1 December 2011.

The cost of the post and rail racks is dependent upon the quantity required. A 3m rack with 20 posts, which would hold more slabs of stone than 1 A-frame, cost $2,500 plus GST.

In order to release the clamp without going in between the slabs of stone it is common practice in the industry to use a stick or poll to release the clip whilst standing at the side of the slabs of stone and out of the area in which they may fall.

 




Outcome Summary

The Accused entered a guilty plea and was convicted.  The Magistrate fined the Accused $120,000.00 and no orders for costs.

Conviction Date 29 Apr 2015
Court Magistrates Court of Western Australia
Fine $120,000.00
Costs $0.00
Charge Number PE116381/14