A SENTENCING hearing was held at Mandurah Magistrates Court on Friday over the drowning of a man in the Shire of Waroona’s waste treatment facility.
The Shire pleaded guilty to being in control of a workplace and failing to ensure others were not exposed to hazards.
Ronald Arthur Watts drowned in a pond full of faecal matter at a treatment facility on Buller Road on August 16, 2013.
A Work Safe prosecutor told the court on Friday that the Shire was responsible for the wastewater treatment plant near Waroona townsite.
The prosecutor argued that the penalties against the Shire should be hefty as it refused to accept responsibility or show remorse for the role it played in Mr Watts’ death.
The counsel for the Shire argued that pleading guilty showed it accepted responsibility and was remorseful.
The prosecutor told the court the Shire contracted Andy Pisconeri to work on the refuse site, who allowed Mr Watts, who was his retired uncle, to accompany him at work.
The prosecutor told the court the Shire was aware that Mr Watts assisted Mr Pisconeri as representatives had seen him operating machinery
Septic waste was treated at the compound in five ponds, which were enclosed with a cyclone fence that was kept locked when the site was not operating.
The depth of human waste in pond one was three metres and if someone fell into this pond it would be difficult for them to climb out.
The prosecutor told the court Mr Pisconeri opened the site at 10am on Friday, August 16, 2013. He was operating a loader and watched his uncle walk off.
Later on that day he saw Mr Watts’ dog near a loader. It was agitated and covered in waste.
Mr Pisconeri went to look for his uncle at the refuse site.
When he could not find him, he called the police. They looked for him for the entire afternoon.
On the Sunday, the Shire employed a contractor to empty the ponds. It had told Mr Pisconeri he was not allowed to empty them.
Mr Watts was found dead at the bottom of pond one. The prosecutor told the court it was never determined how Mr Watts got into the pond, but the Coroner determined he died by drowning.
The Shire of Waroona was told to put fences around each pond and to install an auto pump following the incident.
The prosecutor told the court that Mr Pisconeri told the Shire before his uncle drowned that he was concerned at how many dogs and cats were drowning in the ponds.
Mr Pisconeri’s concerns drove him to hammer stakes into the ground and trail rope off them into the ponds.
The prosecutor said Mr Watts could not be considered a trespasser because the Shire was aware he was at the site.
“While they (the Shire) are pleading guilty they aren’t taking responsibility for their behaviour,” the prosecutor said.
“They’re saying others failed to point out to them the risks.
“They’ve pointed to the manager of the facility and Mr Pisconeri and said they had more control of the facility than they did.
“They have said it only took a small amount of care while walking around |the compound and said they had little understanding how Mr Watts fell into the pond.
“But the duties of the Occupational Safety and Health Act cannot be delegated to others.”
The prosecutor said counsel for the Shire described Mr Watts’ death as a “freak accident” which showed it did not take responsibility for its part in his death.
Counsel for the Shire told the court that the person who built the ponds said cyclone fences were sufficient.
“Installing fences and ropes shows we take responsibility,” he said.
“The Shire takes the matter seriously and deeply regrets what happened.”
The case was remanded for sentencing on July 28.