Organisational background

Managing Director of Solar Eggs Farms Pty Ltd, Jonathan Attard is a third generation primary producer that supplies over 1,000,000 free range, barn laid and caged eggs each week across six different brands.

Started in 1927 by Jonathan’s grandfather, the business has progressively evolved from a hobby farm into an innovative market leader in South Australia employing around 60 people at their Barossa farm and North Plympton sites.

Solar Egg Farms is a leader in biosecurity and has developed its own certification process, exceeding the current national industry standard.

Workplace incident

On 1 February 2017, an employee was operating a Moba 2000 egg grading and packing machine (Moba) at the Barossa farm.

The employee observed an egg fall in between the drop tray and the conveyor landing and with the plant still in operation, reached into an unguarded area that contained a moving conveyor chain, resulting in an amputation injury to four fingers on the right hand.

The index finger was successfully reattached to the employee’s hand, however the remaining three fingers were permanently amputated.

SafeWork SA investigation

SafeWork SA inspectors attended the Barossa farm site the same day of the incident and issued a statutory notice prohibiting the use of the Moba due to inadequate guarding and commenced a full investigation into the incident.

The following day, SafeWork SA inspectors returned to the site and were satisfied that adequate measures had been taken by Solar Egg Farms to address the immediate risks identified in the prohibition notice, returning the plant back into operation.

Subsequent statutory improvements notices were issued for guarding, and the development of safe systems of work relating to the operation and maintenance of the Moba. These notices were duly complied with.

Attard said ‘we didn’t see that particular machine as being a problem at all as everything was OK based on standard walk-throughs we conducted and risk assessment checks. In hindsight, there is more we could have done’.

Review of the plant

After the initial investigation with SafeWork SA inspectors, Solar Egg Farms made improvements to the Moba with additional guarding.

Attard admits prior to the incident, risk assessments were conducted by using what he described as a “common sense” approach.

Solar Egg Farms has transformed from taking an operational and reactive approach on safety to one of prevention and pro-activeness.

Since the incident on 1 February 2017, Solar Egg Farms have redirected their focus where hazard identification and risk assessments are concerned to, not what you think shouldn’t happen, but what could happen.

This change in the company’s safety culture has reinforced management’s responsibility where safety is concerned and empowered workers to speak up about safety related issues through the introduction of an effective reporting and consultation process.

‘Adjusting workplace thinking to a preventative approach and consultation is a big change in our business. We are now involving our staff and core people in safety decisions,’ said Attard.

Solar Egg Farms has recently decommissioned the Moba and replaced it with an egg packing machine - the SANOVO Farmpacker 40.

Attard said, “The Farmpacker is a lot smaller in size and, unlike the Moba, only packs eggs and does not grade them. This better suits our business needs as all eggs are graded at the North Plympton production site in line with biosecurity requirements”.

Entering into an enforceable undertaking

Following the investigation into the incident, Solar Eggs applied to enter into an Enforceable Undertaking (EU) with SafeWork SA, as an alternative to a prosecution.

An EU is a written, legally binding agreement proposed by a company or individual following a contravention or alleged contravention of the WHS Act 2012 (SA) and alternative to prosecution.

Executive Director of SafeWork SA, Martyn Campbell said enforceable undertakings were not a way to avoid prosecution, but as an alternative enforcement option to rectify breaches of the Act.

‘Applications for EUs are assessed on a case-by-case basis and need to demonstrate benefits to the workplace, their industry and the wider community. Not all applications for EUs are accepted.

The benefit to businesses are that EUs allow for more flexible and broad outcomes than what is available through prosecution and the Courts,’ said Campbell.

Initiatives that are contained in an EU aim to resolve both the behaviour that led to the contravention or alleged contravention, as well as rectifying the consequences.

‘EUs are strictly monitored by SafeWork SA as the Regulator. If there is a breach of an EU, there is the option to seek to prosecute for the original breach of the Act,’ said Campbell.

The focus for Solar Egg Farms when negotiating the EU was to create positive outcomes for everyone involved while looking at the workplace holistically.

‘The fact we had done so much work in improving our workplace safety in the two years after the incident, was taken into consideration by SafeWork SA when we applied to enter into an EU’, said Attard.

Some of the actions included as part of the EU agreement between Solar Egg Farms and SafeWork SA included:

  • dissemination to workers, industry stakeholders and the community about the EU
  • supply goods or services to the injured worker to assist with day to day requirements
  • engage an external safety advisor a day per fortnight for the duration of the EU
  • provide safety related refresher training to workers and maintain a training data base
  • ensure Solar Egg Farm’s safety management system is audited by accredited safety auditors
  • commitment to implement recommendations from the audit
  • develop a safety alert related to the Moba or similar plant and disseminate to industry
  • enable SafeWork SA to undertake a compliance audits of egg grading/sorting plant.

Attard said, ‘When we were looking at developing the EU, SafeWork SA provided a reasonable amount of flexibility with how we could include good outcomes for our employees and the process has made us look at the workplace holistically.

A business or individual may apply to vary or withdraw an EU. Requests to vary an undertaking will only be considered if:

  • it does not alter the intention of the original undertaking;
  • compliance with the original undertaking is subsequently found to be impractical;
  • there has been a material change in circumstances.

Benefits from an enforceable undertaking

If the application for an EU is accepted by the Regulator, a SafeWork SA inspector is allocated to work closely with the business to verify that the activities outlined in the EU agreement are completed and assist in resolving any issues at the earliest opportunity.

For Attard, he is clear that the EU has had immediate benefits and allowed him to redirect his energy and reinvest money otherwise spent in fines, had Solar Egg Farms been prosecuted.

‘Everything has been a learning. As a business owner, I thought I knew what I needed to know when it came to workplace safety requirements.

Regular interactions with SafeWork SA to provide guidance and clarity with any questions and ensure we stay on track has been really valuable,’ said Attard.

Solar Eggs now prescribe to safety not being something you look at once a year, but something they assess and review every week, and every day. Safety is at the front of mind for everything they do.