Workplace injury fine up

May 05, 2018

The conveyor belt in which young Irish woman Annie Dunne, now 22, had her scalp and ear torn off when her hair became caught - has since been covered with a yellow fencing barrier.

Shepparton’s Kalafatis Packing Pty Ltd has had its fine for failing to provide a safe workplace tripled on appeal.

The pear-packing company was in court earlier this year following a 2015 incident where a young Irish backpacker’s scalp and ear were torn off in a conveyor belt accident.

In Shepparton Magistrates’ Court in January, the company was fined $50000 without conviction and ordered to pay $22000 in costs.

The Director of Public Prosecutions labelled the sentence as ‘‘manifestly inadequate’’ and appealed.

The Shepparton County Court on Thursday agreed, increasing the penalty to $150000 and recording a conviction for failing to provide a safe workplace for the 2015 incident.

Irish backpacker Annie Dunne, 22, was cleaning underneath a pear conveyor belt in the shed at the time of the incident, when her hair became tangled.

The woman was scrubbing the underside of a conveyer belt on November 7, 2015, when her hair became tangled in a rotating drive shaft, a court had previously been told.

Ms Dunne lost all her hair and attached skin from above her eyelids to the back of her neck, plus one of her ears.

The unsafe practice that led to the incident was ‘‘shocking and completely unacceptable’’, WorkSafe’s acting health and safety director Paul Fowler said.

‘‘The dangers of having workers reaching into moving machinery should be obvious to any employer,’’ he said yesterday.

‘‘The time or cost saved by not powering down is never worth the horrific injuries that could occur and did... occur on this occasion.’’

In a statement, the company said: ‘‘In light of the company’s past outstanding record of safety and the huge investment in addressing safety issues since the incident in November 2015, the company is deeply disappointed with the decision.

‘‘The Appeal Court noted that the company had no prior incidents for more than 60 years which is a major feat given that more than 70 people can be processing fruit for Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane markets on any one day.

‘‘The court also noted that the company had spent more than $200000 on remedial safety issues to try to make the highly mechanised fruit grading system safer.

‘‘However, unlike the Magistrates’ Court, the Appeal Court appeared to place little weight on these key mitigating factors.’’

Company lawyer David Schier said the company had had regular WorkSafe audits before the incident but the fruit processing system had not been found to have inherent faults.

‘‘The philosophy of WorkSafe should be to proactively make the workplace safer as the company has in this case rather than seeking to jack up fines where the only benefit is to the coffers of Worksafe,’’ he said.

—  Myles Peterson with AAP

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