A fresh produce business has received judgement from The South Australian Employment Tribunal (SAET) following an incident where a worker was dragged into a water pit with a moving agitator in October 2017 resulting in serious and ongoing impairment.

Zerella Holdings Pty Ltd was convicted and fined $300,000 before a 30% discount was applied for an early guilty plea.

In October 2017, a male worker was seriously injured whilst attempting to clean a sump pump which had been raised from a potato wash pit.  As he leant over his clothing was caught in an unguarded rotating agitator shaft, dragging him into the pit and spinning him around the agitator shaft. The clothing on his upper body was torn off. He was then thrown onto a platform within the pit, thereby avoiding falling into the water below.

The SafeWork SA investigations identified that there was no safe operating procedure for the plant and equipment, in particular for the maintenance of the sump pump.

It was further identified that the defendant failed to have adequate training and appropriate supervision in place.

Zerella Holdings Pty Ltd pleaded guilty to a breach of section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA).  It breached its s19 duty to ensure the safety of workers whilst at work thereby exposing them to the risk of serious injury or death.

The offence carried a maximum penalty of $1,500,000.

The South Australian Employment Tribunal convicted Zerella and issued a fine of $210,000 ($300,000 before applying a 30% discount) plus costs.

Zerella failed to:

  • maintain the plant including guards around the rotating PTO shaft.
  • use a safe system of work to minimise the risk of injury
  • prepare a Safe Operating Procedure that related to the plant and tasks
  • provide adequate supervision when undertaking the task
  • adequately train workers to undertake the task safely.

SafeWork SA Executive Director, Martyn Campbell said, “This is an example of a business taking shortcuts in an attempt to be more efficient which involved a clear risk of serious injury or death to workers completing the task.

There should always be a priority to focus on critical controls and having safe systems in place including training, procedures and supervision”, said Mr Campbell.

When sentencing, Deputy President Magistrate Cole said he accepted “the defendant has taken extensive remedial steps …. and implemented a full review of its safety measures”.

In making the decision, his Honour stated he believed, “the defendant has learnt its lesson and is unlikely to reoffend, the penalty in this case needs to reinforce the importance of the defendant not breaching work health and safety requirements in the future.

The defendant’s early plea of guilty was considered when applying a sentencing discount of 30% stating that “any greater discount would result in a fine disproportionate to the seriousness of the breach’, said Deputy President Magistrate Cole.