Companies fined over farm death

Source: WorkSafe Victoria

Two companies have each been fined $100,000 over a farm incident that killed a worker who was run over by a reversing tractor.

Labour hire company, Nikolic Pty Ltd, and the operators of the Werribee South vegetable farm, A.M. & P. Zanghi Pty Ltd, were prosecuted by WorkSafe at the Sunshine Magistrates' Court this week.

Both companies pleaded guilty to two counts of failing to provide a safe workplace and failing to provide proper training and supervision to workers.

The 62-year-old worker who died was employed by Nikolic Pty Ltd to work at the farm for one to two days a week. He had only been working there two months when the incident happened on 23 November 2009.

WorkSafe's Manufacturing, Logistics and Agriculture Division Director, Ross Pilkington, hoped the prosecution sent a strong message to workers and employers working on farms.

"Over the past five years, Victoria's agriculture industry has accounted for a quarter of all workplace deaths across the state. Farmers and farm workers are more like to be seriously hurt or die at work than any other Victorian," he said.

"Sadly, collisions between pedestrians and vehicles happen all too often across many industries and it's something that can easily be prevented by putting in a few simple procedures that often come at a little cost, especially when compared to a conviction and a $100,000 fine."

"Not only can workplaces do without the financial burden, but workplace deaths have a profound effect on not only those directly involved, but on the wider community."

The court was told the worker and two others were sitting on the back of a trailer attached to a tractor and returning to a shed.

The man who died jumped off the trailer just before it reversed into a loading bay at the shed, but fell on to his hands and knees and could not get up and move out of the way in time.

Unable to hear another worker's plea to stop the tractor, the driver continued to reverse the vehicle and only stopped after he felt the trailer move upwards. The worker died at the scene.

WorkSafe's investigation found the driver could not see past the one metre high trailer load of vegetables and a worker helping reverse the tractor could only see down one side of the vehicle.

The investigation also found:

  • There was no traffic management system in place at the farm which separated traffic and pedestrians;
  • Riding on the back of trailers attached to tractors was common practice at the farm;
  • Employees were not provided with adequate training or instruction regarding trailers in their induction or during the period of their employment;
  • The labour hire company failed to ensure a traffic management system was in place before sending the worker to the property.
  • There was no documented agreement between the two companies which outlined the scope of the work to be done by contracted employees and the way OH&S would be managed.

In sentencing, Magistrate Grinberg took into account Zanghi's and Nikolic's early pleas of guilty as well as the fact that both companies changed their systems of work after the incident.

Each company was convicted and fined $100,000 and ordered to pay $2,640 in legal costs.