Nowergup limestone company fined for having hazardous workplace

Stock image.
Stock image.

A NOWERGUP limestone company has been fined more than $60,000 for having a hazardous workplace after a young employee became entangled in a block making machine last year, leading to the loss of his leg and serious internal injuries.

Limestone Building Blocks Company Pty Ltd faced Joondalup Magistrates Court for sentencing on Friday afternoon in relation to the trauma suffered by labourer Dane Smith on January 25, 2017.

The hearing followed the company’s guilty plea at its first hearing two weeks ago to a charge of failing “to provide and maintain a working environment at a mine where employees are not exposed to hazards”.

Mr Smith was attempting to remove limestone residue from inside the machine when he activated the automatic building process.

The machine completed one building cycle with him trapped inside it before an employee rushed to save him. Mr Smith’s injuries included an amputated leg, fractures to his spine and pelvis and ruptures to his liver and kidneys.

Magistrate Deen Potter fined the company $65,000, reduced from $140,000 because its early guilty plea saved Mr Smith “the trauma and emotional rollercoaster” of a lengthy court process.

Speaking outside court, company lawyer Tim Houweling said the penalty was “significant” and would have a “serious impact on a family-owned company”.

“The family-owned company offers the highest standard of safety to its employees but sometimes, regrettably, there’s incidents that occur where an employee acts outside the scope of their immediate authority,” he said,

“It’s sad there were events that had catastrophic injuries and consequences as a result. We’re glad that it’s all over and looking forward to getting on with business.”

He said the company understood Mr Smith was recovering and there would be an opportunity for him to continue working for the business.

Mr Houweling argued in court that while the company admitted to a breach of safety, Mr Smith had acted against instructions not to go in the machine.

Mr Smith had been an employee for 18 months.

“He had just been put on full time so he was looking to impress and he just stepped over the line,” he said.

He said Mr Smith’s first words when he woke up in hospital “were something to the effect of ‘I f*****d up’.”

The court heard the machine operated with a two-key system and, for safety reasons, it was only meant to have one key left in it.

It was also meant to have safety mesh attached to it to prevent access to the block-making area.

There were two keys in the machine and the safety mesh was missing when the catastrophe happened.

Mr Houweling said this was the reason they were pleading guilty.

The Department of Mines and Petroleum prosecutor argued the company should accept full responsibility.

He asserted Mr Smith should have undergone a more thorough training process.

“It’s not enough for a supervisor simply to have said ‘do not put your hands in there, that’s hazardous’,” he said.

In handing down his sentence, Mr Potter accepted the company’s actions were not “in a manner of reckless disregard”.

But he said Mr Smith should never have had access to the inside of the machine while there were two keys in it.

“The employee’s catastrophic injuries speak for themselves,” he said.

“It’s not something a company let alone a family business would want to have associated with its name.”

He acknowledged the company had since spent more than $1 million improving its safety standards.

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