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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters



OSH Tracker

Department of Labour v Downer Construction (NZ) Ltd (DC, 07/10/98)

OSH Tracker

Defendant:
Downer Construction (NZ)
A fine of $30,000 imposed following a tunnelling fatality under central Auckland is equal to the highest ever imposed for a single charge under the HSE Act. the Auckland District Court on 7 October, Downer Construction (NZ) Ltd pleaded guilty and was fined $30,000 under s6 after an accident in January this year in which a driver working in an underground tunnel was crushed when his locomotive fell into a pit. His family was awarded $20,000 of the fine. The system of work was that the locomotive was filled with excavated material - ‘muck’ - while the skip was being raised to the surface to dispose of the previous load. By the time the locomotive approached the pit with the next load the empty skip should have descended and been in place across the pit. The skip was fitted with rails across which the locomotive could travel before stopping and dumping its load into the skip. But the system broke down. The locomotive fell into the pit while the empty skip was still descending. The pit, said prosecutor Shona Carr, was a significant hazard which the company had identified but had done nothing about. There was no warning system in place. There was no means to ensure the locomotive could only run over the pit when the skip was present. The company had planned to install a red/green traffic light and interlocked gate, plus a derailer device if the locomotive ran the light. However, work had begun seven days before the accident without any of this gear in place. "The accident was foreseeable," she said. "No skip equals no track. The locomotive would run into the pit." It was unacceptable, she argued, that the company should rely on workers to lower the skip in time. In mitigation, defence counsel said that it should not have been possible for the skip to have been on the winch when the locomotive was approaching, and that no one had been able to explain why the skip was not there. The company accepted that there were further practicable steps that it could have taken. After the accident it had put in place a system involving lights, switch and derailer. Judge Chris Field agreed that the degree of culpability in this case was high. "I regard it as unacceptable for workers effectively [to be] made responsible for their own safety, particularly where another avenue was available, had been planned, but not put into place. For the sake of a few days the accident could have been avoided." 
Industry:
Construction
Sub-Industry:
General Construction
Risk:
Vehicle - mobile plant (eg forklift, platform)
Harm:
Death
Penalty Amount:
$30000.00
Reparation Amount:
$20000.00
Appeared in Safeguard issue 52

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