OHS Obligations and Labour-Hire Again in the Limelight with Mass Payout to Worker

10 April 2018

A labour-hire company and a host employer have been ordered to pay nearly $1 million in damages after a migrant worker was injured whilst engaged in employment on a production line.

The Queensland Supreme Court (Supreme Court) found that AWX Pty Ltd (AWX) and host employer Teys Australia Central Queensland Pty Ltd (Teys) had failed in their duties to properly train workers. Authorising workers to use a stop button to halt the production line was insufficient in meeting the requirements, given that the workers were never advised as to when it would be appropriate to use the stop button.

Background

The worker, an Afghani refugee, sued AWX and Teys after sustaining a spinal injury whilst working on the production line.

The worker had been working in the meatworks paunch room, which required him to work in a high volume environment. The lack of supervision and training saw him frequently twisting and over-using his back, and never used the stop button as he was unaware of its purpose and correct application.

In July 2010, the worker injured his back after attempting to fix a minor fault in the machinery, which meant that he had to lie across a table on his side and pull part of the machinery toward him, causing an immediate pain in his back and buttock. On average, the worker processed one paunch every 12 to 20 seconds, and struggled to keep up with the demands of the production but never used the stop button to assist himself.

Hearing

AWX and Teys submitted a video of the production line, arguing that it was safe and that the stop button could be used. However, the video was deemed to be slower than the reality of the production line, and also showed a worker stretch out across a table in an unsafe manner.

The evidence of unsafe procedures being undertaken regularly was overwhelming. Justice McMeeking reasoned that a reasonable person in the employer’s position would take precautions against the likelihood of workers being injured due to pulling on heavy objects.

Simple engineering controls could ensure that the work was conducted much more safely and would reduce the likelihood of injury to workers; further, management procedures could have been implemented or better implemented to buttress safety to workers.

Justice McMeekin found that Teys’ hazard analysis was insufficient, and did not adequately recognise the relevant risks.

The worker’s training was also insufficient.

He awarded the worker $964,254 in damages, including $570,000 for past and future economic loss.