Sentencing hearing held after man drowned in Shire of Waroona waste treatment tank


The ponds at the waste treatment facility where Mr Watts drowned.
The ponds at the waste treatment facility where Mr Watts drowned.

A SENTENCING hearing was held at Mandurah Magistrates Court on Friday in relation to the drowning death 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 were responsible for the waste water treatment plant near Waroona townsite.

The prosecutor argued that the penalties against the Shire should be hefty as they refused to accept responsibility or show remorse for the role they played in Mr Watts’ death.

Counsel for the Shire argued that pleading guilty showed they accepted responsibility and were remorseful.

The prosecutor told the court they contracted Andy Pisconeri to work on the refuse site, who allowed his retired uncle Mr Watts, to accompany him at work.

The prosecutor told the court that the Shire was aware that Watts assisted Pisconeri as they had seen him operating machinery

Septic waste was treated at the compound in five ponds, which were enclosed with a cyclone fence which 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 that Mr Pisconeri opened the site at 10am on August 16 (a Friday); 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 couldn’t 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; they told Mr Pisconeri he wasn’t allowed to empty them.

Mr Watts was found dead at the bottom of pond one.

The prosecutor told the court that it was never determined how Watts go 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 that 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 ponds.

“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 shows they don’t take responsibility for their 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.