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Prosecution Details

Offender Robert Anthony Hoekzema


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Charge Charge Number Offence Date Date Convicted Regulation Section Penalty Provision Penalty Imposed Date Sentenced
1 KA26578/2017 27 June 2015 2nd July 2018 20A(2)(c) $4,400.00 6th December 2018
Description of Breach(es)

Being an employee, failed to take reasonable care to avoid adversely affecting the safety or health of any other person through any act or omission at work, and by that failure caused serious harm to a person; contrary to sections 20(1)(b) and 20A(2) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984.

Background Details

The incident

On 27 June 2015, the accused was a casual crane operator working under the direction of H’VAR Steel Services Pty Ltd (H’VAR) for a project managed by Doric Construction.

H’VAR had control over the Accused in its role as his employer, such as by directing him when to work and where to work.

On 27 June 2015, a four story commercial building was under construction in Karratha. Concrete panels were picked up from a rack and lifted over the top of the buildings and secured into place. The panels were being secured to the outside of the building because it was to be clad in concrete. It took approximately one hour for the crane to lift each panel over the buildings and lower it into place.

The accused was aware that some of the lifts would be beyond the specified maximum capacity of the crane. The Accused was operating the crane.

While the accused was operating the crane, Site Manager and boilermaker were present on the ground. From time to time, the site manager and the boiler maker were “dogging” lifts on the crane.

The Accused was directed by the site manager of HVAR to use the crane to lift panels. Lifting some of the panels from where the crane was located meant that some of the lifts would be beyond the maximum capacity of the crane for part of the duration of the lift.

The collective decision to lift the panels to complete the job meant that the crane was not dismantled, moved and rebuilt closer to the other side of the building. Arrangements had been made to close the traffic intersection on the other side of the construction site on the following Monday to allow the relocation of the crane closer to where the panels were lifted. It was open to the management to relocate the crane. In an effort to reduce delay, the crane was not moved.

On two occasions, the Accused overloaded the crane up to 135% of its rated lifting capacity. Each time the crane’s computer showed him the lift was over capacity, a continuous alarm sounded in the cabin and a load limiting device in the crane stopped the operation of the crane. Towards the end of the day, a worker was directed to manage traffic to keep it from under the path of a concrete slab to be lifted across the top of the building by the crane.

Due to being overweighted, the boom of the crane bent and collapsed whilst reaching over the buildings. The cable wire attached to the boom of the crane swung down and as the worker moved to avoid the collapsing crane his left foot was captured and crushed by it. His boot and part of his foot were torn away.

The worker suffered crushing injuries to his left foot, including severe soft tissue damage, missing first toe nail, full amputation of the 3rd and 4th toes, partial amputation of the 2nd and 5th toes and multiple fractures and extensive lacerations.    The worker underwent surgery after the incident where the 5th toe was fully amputated.   Further surgery was required for the 2nd toe which was fully amputated leaving only the big toe.   

The force of the cable knocked the worker to the ground resulting in the need for a spinal fusion and loss of the full use of his right arm.

The Accused was only able to operate the crane over its maximum lifting capacity by over-riding the cranes safety functions.

How the crane was operated

The crane was operated by two foot pedals, two joy sticks, a series of switches on the dashboard, and a computer screen controlled by a mouse and a vertical row of keys. The joy sticks were located to the right and the left of the operator when seated. The computer screen shows the percentage of the crane’s maximum lifting capacity currently in use, in addition to other information.

There were three safety systems on the crane activated if the operator overloaded it. These were an audible alarm, a red, green and yellow row of lights, and three load limiting devices. The load limiting devices cut in and stop the ability to move the crane with either joy stick. That is, moving the joy sticks does not have any affect.

The process to override the safety systems

Three keys in a vertical row are on the far right of the crane controls. Each key is spring loaded, so if it is released it swings back to the off position. When held in the on position, each key allows a specific movement of the crane even though it is overloaded. The crane is designed to allow this because in exceptional cases, such as malfunctioning, it may be necessary.

To allow the overloaded crane to operate in a particular way, the operator has to use one hand to hold the relevant key in the on position, because it spring loaded, and the other hand to operate the joystick. So, only one movement can be overridden at a time.

To move the panels over the building whilst overloading the crane, the Accused had to simultaneously rotate the crane in an anticlockwise direction allowed by the first key and the upward direction allowed by the second key. The spring loading of the keys was designed specifically to prevent this. To overcome it, the Accused held the two keys in place by threading a piece of wire through the open centre of each key.

The Accused was an experienced crane operator who had operated cranes on and off from about 1976. He requalified for his licence for slewing mobile cranes in around 1990, and subsequently obtained a CO class of High Risk Work Licence. The CO class of High Risk Work Licence applies to the crane in this incident.

The process he used to overload the crane was explicitly prohibited by the manuals kept in the cabin of the crane. It was also contrary to the manufacturer’s specifications as to the maximum capacity of the crane.

The Prosecution accepts that while the Accused was part of the collective decision not to move the crane to a safe operating location, the Accused was not solely responsible for this decision. The reasonable care it is alleged ought to have been taken by the Accused is limited to omitting to operate the crane, when sitting in the cab, outside of its specified lifting capacity.

Outcome Summary

The accused plead guilty and was convicted.  The Magistrate fined the Accused $4400.00 and ordered costs of $4700.00

Court Magistrates Court of Western Australia - Perth
Costs $4700.00

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