A former Wagga construction business has been fined $450,000 over a serious forklift accident which left one man fighting for his life in 2020.
Former Forest Hill timber business Big River Group was convicted in the Downing Street District Court after Judge Wendy Strathdee found it "failed to comply with its duty" of safety and "exposed workers... to a risk of death or serious injury" in a judgement handed down on Friday.
On 27 October, 2020 two truck drivers attended the business on Elizabeth Avenue, Forest Hill to collect materials.
While one of the trucks was being loaded by a forklift, both drivers were talking standing next to the truck.
They moved towards the rear of the truck, believing to be in a safe zone based on the signage when horror struck.
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The forklift driver failed to see either driver and reversed into one of the men, running over his leg and causing significant injuries including multiple rib fractures, serious damage to his thigh and multiple toe fractures.
In 2021 the business, which sourced timber from Batlow and Tumbarumba, shut its Forest Hill premises following the loss of 40 per cent of the region's high quality sawlog supply.
In court last week, Judge Strathdee noted the forklift driver in that incident had been involved in a "very similar accident" barely a year before the second one occurred.
In October 2019, another truck driver sustained a laceration to his head and an ankle injury after the forklift reversed over his left foot while the truck was being loaded.
Judge Strathdee found while the defendant took "some steps to address the risk" following that incident, they were "clearly inadequate" to prevent further incidents and protect workers.
"The fact [both truck drivers were]... standing in what was depicted to be a 'safe zone' at the time when [one of them] was struck by the forklift points to the underlying inadequacy of the procedures at the time."
The judge found at the time of the second incident there was no line or other markings on the ground in the loading zone depicting where truck drivers should stand while loading or unloading is taking place.
She noted Big River already had a traffic management plan to address safety risks, but found it "did not include any adequate controls to prevent...[people] from being struck by mobile plant."
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The court heard several documents issued by SafeWork Australia and SafeWork NSW recommended putting measures in place to designate clear separation of operating vehicles or machinery and pedestrians including the use of physical barriers.
Two days after the incident Big River updated safety procedures and established clearly designated areas to separate pedestrians and vehicles including the installation of a collapsible safety barrier.
The court heard following the 2020 incident, the victim spent 32 days in hospital, some of which was in an induced coma and when he awoke he was told he might lose his leg.
Following reconstruction surgery, numerous skin grafts and three years of medical appointments across the state, the victim remains in constant pain.
The victim said he is no longer able to enjoy activities he used to do with his family such as fishing, gardening and playing with his grandchildren.
In considering what sentence to impose, Judge Strathdee said it was important to impose a penalty that would direct others in the industry to the "consequences of inattention and the need for greater concentration on the potential risk of death or serious injury" during the movement of timber and building supplies.
The judge found while "there were some good policies in place [at Big River]... more needed to be done."
She noted after the incident, the accused responded with improved safety measures.
"This incident has acted as a wake-up call to the defendant and I believe the systems and mindfulness as to safety within the works performed by [a person conducting a business or undertaking] are now appropriately heightened."
The court heard Big River has no prior convictions under work health and safety law and noting the "high risk" nature of the industry, Judge Strathdee said this was a "significant mitigating factor."
Judge Strathdee noted since the incident Big River has "accepted responsibility for the offence and has acknowledged the injury, loss and damage caused."
Big River Group was convicted and ultimately fined $450,000 - discounted from $600,000 to reflect the guilty plea - with half of that amount to be paid to the prosecutor, and prosecutor's costs of $54,000.
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