Work Health & Safety

The tragic death of a 60-year-old farm worker after falling from a hothouse roof is a reminder to all growers of the need for safe work systems. The worker had been attempting to remove plastic covering when he lost his balance and fell about 2.5 metres, suffering a fractured spine, spinal cord damage and quadriplegia. The worker passed away from health complications while in hospital following the incident. Safework NSW charged the business and its director with a breach of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW) for failing to comply with their duty. They were both found guilty in the District Court and fined a total of A$165,000.

“The death of an employee at Austral Hydroponics tomato farm is a sad and shocking reminder of the obligations of everybody in the Protected Cropping industry to place Work Health and Safety (WH&S) at the core of everyday activities on our farms, and in and around our greenhouses,” said Robert Hayes, Chairman of Protected Cropping Australia (PCA), the peak industry organisation representing the commercial hydroponic and greenhouse industry.

“This was arguably a preventable incident, and as the NSW Court determined, could and should have been anticipated and measures taken to stop it happening in the first place. All growers with plastic and glass covered structures should be familiar with the risks associated with working at heights when replacing the roof covering,” Mr Hayes said.

The District Court determined that the risk of falling from the roof was foreseeable and could have been minimised if the farm business had completed a risk assessment and put safe work procedures in place. The Court also found that the worker did not receive training or assistance to work safely from heights or on the roof and there was inadequate supervision.

“Historically, many manufacturers and builders have been in breach of their statutory and common law obligations to design, manufacture and ultimately sell to growers, structures that are compliant with Australian Standards, the Work Health and Safety Act, and which can be used and maintained safely,” Mr Hayes said.

“However, it is equally incumbent on growers to specify the products that they buy are compliant, and are then used, operated and maintained in a safe manner.

“Workplace health and safety is not an obligation to be endured, but a basic human right that gives an employee the confidence that they will go home to their family every day after work, free of injury and able to enjoy their life,” Mr Hayes added.

“Integrating WH&S on the farm does not have to cost the earth, but it does require a culture of putting it at the centre of daily activities and building it into everything that happens. All staff members from the casual labourer to the company director have a right, and an obligation, to look at what they are doing or asking their staff to do, and to ensure that the risks associated with that task are identified and managed.”

The Chair of Protected Cropping Australia urged all employers and employees involved in the industry to review their safety systems, programs and work practices to ensure that there is no repeat of this sad occurrence.  Ω

Steven Carruthers

PH&G February 2016 / Issue 164