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Prosecution Details

Offender Ferngrove Vineyards Pty Ltd (ACN 080 659 114)


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Charge Charge Number Offence Date Date Convicted Regulation Section Penalty Provision Penalty Imposed Date Sentenced
1 AL2050/11 15 July 2008 24th February 2012 3A(3)(b)(i) $60,000.00 24th February 2012
Description of Breach(es)

Being an employer, failed so far was practicable, to provide and maintain a working environment in which its employees were not exposed to hazards and by that contravention caused serious harm to an employee, contrary to sections 19(1) and 19A(2) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984

Background Details

The Accused operates a vineyard and winery at Lot 123 Ferngrove Road in Frankland River ("the workplace").  The Accused employed a worker as a cellar hand.

Part of the cellar hand's duties included cleaning the outside of wine fermentation tanks to remove mould deposits that build up. The Accused has 170 wine tanks at the workplace with some being 10 metres tall. This cleaning process is a regular and routine task.

On 15 July 2008 the cellar hand went to clean the outside of wine tanks that were approximately 6 metres tall. To perform this task he used an extension ladder to reach the upper reaches of the tank. The cellar hand had frequently used an extension ladder to perform this task. No-one assisted him. This task was commonly performed at the workplace using an extension ladder in this fashion.

The cellar hand extended the ladder to nearly its full height and then climbed the ladder.   He was working near the top of the ladder. Immediately before the accident described below, the cellar hand was working while standing upright with his feet at least 2.9 m from the floor. The ladder was not secured to the tank against slippage in any way nor was the cellar hand otherwise secured against falling from the ladder. The cellar hand fell from the ladder.   It is not clear how or how far he fell, but he left finger markings on a tank at approximately 5.1 m above the ground, and his feet fell at least 2.9 m.  The cellar hand was not able to say precisely what happened, and there were no witnesses.

The cellar hand was treated at the scene and subsequently air lifted to Perth for treatment by the Royal Flying Doctor Service. He was admitted to hospital with serious head injuries in a critical condition and required surgery to relieve pressure from cranial haemorrhages. Absent the appropriate treatment, the injuries suffered by the cellar hand were likely to have endangered his life.  He was subsequently off work for 5 months.

The Accused had previously identified the risk of a fall from height as a risk that may have serious consequences at the workplace. The Accused's occupational safety and health manual identified the risk of using ladders and the means by which the risk of a ladder slipping might be addressed. This included having another employee assist the person using the ladder by holding the base of the ladder.

On 15 July 2008 other employees were present at the workplace who could have assisted the cellar hand in this way.  The Accused had also previously used scourers attached to long extension poles to assist in the cleaning of the outside of the fermentation tanks.  This permitted employees to either not require ladders or to not have to climb so far up a ladder to perform this task. However, the Accused considered that scourers fitted with extension poles were not an effective means for an employee to clean the tops of the fermentation tanks while standing on the ground. At the time of the cellar hand's fall the extension poles at the workplace were missing and had not been replaced. A more stable A-frame ladder was also present at the workplace and the Accused had on occasion hired elevated work platforms to assist in the cleaning of the larger tanks at the workplace. However, the Accused was not able, due to space limitations between the tanks, to use the A-frame ladder or the elevated work platforms to clean all of the tanks.

The cellar hand was not provided any formal training in the use of ladders at the workplace nor was he instructed in the need to secure an extension ladder against slippage and lateral movement.  Subsequent to the incident the Accused prohibited the use of extension ladders in this fashion and ensured that extension poles were available on site for the purposes of cleaning the tanks from ground level. These extension poles cost approximately $100.00. The Accused no longer cleans those parts of the tanks that cannot be cleaned by an employee standing on the ground using a scourer fitted with an extension pole. All employees were sent on a TAFE run working at heights safety course. This course costs approximately $175 per person.

Outcome Summary

The Accused pleaded guilty and was convicted

Court Magistrates Court of Western Australia - Albany
Costs $1266.70

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