On 16 August 2022, a hardware store company and its sole director were sentenced in the Townsville Magistrates Court for breaching section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (the Act’), having failed to comply with its primary health and safety duty. The company pleaded guilty to failing to comply with its primary duty to ensure workers’ health and safety, thereby exposing them to the risk of death or serious injury. The director pleaded guilty to failing to exercise due diligence to ensure the company complied with its duty, thereby resulting in the exposure to risk.
The company conducts a hardware retail business from a store in Townsville and another in Rockhampton. At the relevant time, it employed 35 workers to carry out front and back-end operations. The routine tasks included moving pallets of stock to and from truck trailers. Workers at the Townsville store had adopted an informal work procedure for unloading the semi-trailer that the company used for stock delivery. The semi-trailer had two decks. When a forklift was used to lift pallets off the top deck, a worker would act as the ‘spotter’ by standing on the deck and ensuring the forklift tines were inserted into the pallets.
The top deck was about 2.5 metres from the ground. It was hazardous because there was nothing to prevent a person from falling off it. A person on the top deck was therefore at risk of death or serious injury from a fall from height.
The company had written procedures for loading and unloading stock which contemplated the possibility that a worker could climb onto a truck trailer when doing such work. However, they did not prescribe how workers should safely move stock from a truck. On 9 June 2020, a traffic management concern prompted a statutory notice to be served on the company, requiring it to improve its system of work for moving, loading and unloading stock by forklift. On 8 July 2020, the company director issued workers with a “truck unloading procedure”. It stipulated five traffic-related controls, but it did not address how workers should safely move stock from a truck.