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Processing company fined $60,000 over death of worker

16 December, 2009

A Geraldton lobster processing company has been fined $60,000 for failing to provide a work environment free from hazards after an employee died as a result of a workplace fall in 2005.

Geraldton Fisherman's Co-operative Ltd pleaded guilty earlier this month to failing to provide a safe working environment and, by that failure, causing the death of an employee and was fined in the Geraldton Magistrates Court.

In December 2005, a truck driver employed by the company was helping to load a truck with pallets of live lobsters for transport to Perth at the "Lives Facility" at Geraldton Fisherman’s Wharf.

A pallet trolley was used to move the pallets around on the back of the truck, and when the truck was almost full, the pallet trolley was stored on the back of the truck so it could be used to unload the truck when it reached its destination.

A forklift was used to move the pallets and pallet trolleys on and off the trucks, and it was common practice at the workplace for people to be lifted on pallets on the tines of forklifts to access the backs of trucks.

In this incident, the truck driver asked another employee to lift him to the back of the truck on the forklift tines so he could place the pallet trolley on the truck. The other employee suggested that a pallet be placed over the tines, but since the usual type of pallet was not available, the truck driver did not wish to use one.

The truck driver stood on the forklift tines with the pallet trolley, and the other employee drove the forklift to the truck, lifted the tines until they were about 5cm over the edge of the truck and lowered the tines onto the back of the truck.

In the course of moving the pallet trolley, the truck driver fell from the tines of the forklift, striking his head on the bitumen.  He died in hospital 10 days later.

WorkSafe WA commissioner Nina Lyhne said that the case demonstrated why riding on the tines of forklifts was prohibited.

"The forklifts used by Geraldton Fisherman's Co-operative each had a sticker at eye level indicating that people were not to be lifted on the tines," Lyhne said.

"Despite this, it was common practice at this workplace for people to be lifted to the backs of trucks on pallets on forklift tines.

"It was up to the employer to provide appropriate training and supervision and have safe work practices in place to ensure that the instructions provided by the forklift manufacturer were followed and that warning stickers were heeded.

"Since this incident, the employer has made several changes to make the workplace safer – including prohibiting the lifting of people on forklift tines - but all too late for the unfortunate worker who lost his life.

"The case is a tragic reminder of the need for workplaces to have safe systems of work in place at all times, especially when forklifts are in use."
Source: WorkSafe WA

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