Two Adelaide companies have been fined a total of $950,000 following the death of a trainee tow truck driver.

The worker sustained fatal injuries when he was crushed between a fixed headboard and toolbox behind the cabin of a tilt tray tow truck and a mechanically sliding tray on 14 March 2018.

Dial A Tow Australia and the manufacturer of the tilt tray, AHRNS Handling Equipment, were both charged with contraventions of the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA) following a SafeWork SA investigation.

The deceased man had only been employed by Dial A Tow for eight days prior to the incident and was trained by an employee with 25 years experience at Dial A Tow including 10 years as a tow truck driver.

The tilt tray was a new model that differed from previous designs supplied by AHRNS in that the tilt tray was not connected to the headboard which was fixed behind the truck’s cab.

The sliding tray was being retracted, under the control of the co-worker, horizontally towards the headboard when the incident occurred.

Warning signs had been placed on the tray by the manufacturer.

AHRNS pleaded guilty in the South Australian Employment Tribunal following the withdrawal of some of the particulars of the alleged contraventions.

Dial A Tow pleaded not guilty and, in those circumstances, the sentencing of AHRNS was deferred pending the determination of the charge against Dial A Tow.

A sentencing hearing was held on 18 August 2022 with the judgement handed down by Deputy President Judge Rossi on 13 September 2022.

‘…The risk of injury in this case was real and the risk, as identified by AHRNS, and as DAT knew, included the risk of death,’ Judge Rossi said in his judgement.

‘That death materialised, in this case, is demonstrative of the degree of seriousness of the relevant threat to health and safety resulting from DAT’s breach.’

‘It is remarkable, given the placement of the warning signs by AHRNS in the area of the crush zone, and its identification of a risk of serious injury or death if someone were to be in the crush zone as the tilt tray is being retracted towards the headboard, that in its 2017 assessment DAT did not identify any risk of injury.’

A conviction has been recorded against Dial a Tow Australia and a fine of $600,000 imposed.

Further payments of $11,454.50 for the agreed costs of the proceedings and a victims of crime levy in the sum of $405 were also ordered.

Following the incident, AHRNS ceased manufacturing tilt trays with the modified design.

It also brought to the court’s attention that it actively discourages its clients from operating tilt trays with the modified design and that it cooperated with SafeWork SA and Dial A Tow after the incident to develop a suitable engineering solution.

A conviction was recorded against AHRNS and a $350,000 fine imposed.

Proceedings costs of $3,605 and a victims of crime levy of $405 were also ordered.

‘I am satisfied that it is appropriate to allow a discount of the maximum permissible in the circumstances under s 39 being a discount of 30 per cent,’ Deputy President Judge Rossi said.

‘Were it not for the early plea of guilty, I would have imposed a penalty of $500,000.’ SafeWork SA Executive Director Martyn Campbell said the severity of the fines reflected the seriousness of the breaches.

‘While no amount of money can truly compensate the loss of a life, this penalty sends a strong message to both operators and manufacturers about their safety obligations to workers under the Act’, he said.

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