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Prosecution Details

Offender Swissport Australia Pty Ltd (ACN 103 196 701)


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Charge Charge Number Offence Date Date Convicted Regulation Section Penalty Provision Penalty Imposed Date Sentenced
1 PE33194/2021 10 August 2018 9th February 2022 3A(3)(b)(i) $110,000.00 20th July 2022
Description of Breach(es)

Being an employer, contravened section 19(1) of the Occupational Safety & Health Act 1984, and by that contravention caused serious harm to an employee.

Background Details


Early on 10 August 2018, a Swissport employee (tug driver) was operating a Toyota model TG10 baggage tug, marked VB6435 (Tug VB6435) on the southern side of the aerobridge containing Gates 43 to 47 on the western tarmac area of Terminal 1 at Perth Airport. The morning of 10 August 2018 was raining and conditions were slippery.  At approximately 1:00am, the victim boarded Tug VB6435 as the tug driver’s passenger. Tug VB6435 did not have a passenger-side seatbelt or hip guard. After driving a short distance, the tug driver turned and the victim fell out of the side of Tug VB6435 onto the tarmac area, where he hit his head. Ambulance officers arrived at the incident site and transported the victim to Royal Perth Hospital.  He initially experienced vomiting, headache and neck pain. A CT scan showed serious head injuries with a 20mm haematoma. The victim underwent urgent surgery.  The victim suffered ongoing medical problems requiring physiotherapy, occupational therapy and further surgery. He suffered permanent injury as a result of the incident, and a subsequent medical report suggested that it was possible that he would have died if urgent medical treatment was not received.


The victim had been employed by Swissport since 29 January 2015 at Perth Airport as an Airline Service Agent. His duties included baggage handling and service of aircraft.

Work carried out at Perth Airport

Swissport routinely provided ground handling and flight support services to an airline company. In the course of providing these services, Swissport used Ground Service Equipment (GSE) which included baggage tugs. Baggage tugs are powered mobile plant primarily used within the industry to tow other GSE to and from the terminal/cargo facility and the aircraft.

As at 10 August 2018, Swissport had approximately 18 baggage tugs in operation at Perth Airport.  The overwhelming majority of the tugs were Charlatte brand electric powered vehicles.  Those tugs had multiple safety features including:

(a) Seat belts;

(b) Safety rails;

(c) Technology limiting operating without seat belt engaged;

(d) Speed-limiters; and

(e) Speedometers.

Based on Swissport's training, Swissport employees were generally aware that Swissport's procedure was that seatbelts must be worn when fitted; that most of the tugs had seatbelts; and the only vehicles that did not typically have seatbelts fitted were freight deck loaders.  Tug VB6435 was also on site. Tug VB6435 had been provided to Swissport for its use.

Tug VB6435 had no seatbelt or hip guard on either the drivers or passenger's side, speed-limiter or speedometer.  Tug VB6435 had been on site since before 20 June 2018 after it had been earlier sent to Perth for repairs.

Certain employees had noticed that Tug VB6435 was smaller than electric tugs, and was also faster. Certain employees also noticed that Tug VB6435 was not speed restricted, and there were no seat belts or hip guards to prevent a passenger from falling out.

The incident

On 9 August 2018, the victim commenced work. His duties were to unload baggage from an incoming aircraft and he was scheduled to finish his shift at 12:55am on 10 August 2018. 

At approximately 1:00am on 10 August 2018, the victim was walking between bays when another Swissport employee, drove past him on Tug VB6435.  The victim boarded the vehicle as the driver’s passenger.

After driving a short distance, the driver turned left and the victim fell out the side of Tug VB6435 onto the tarmac area where he hit his head. The driver immediately stopped Tug VB6435 and went to the victim to provide assistance. Assistance was provided by ground staff until Emergency Services arrived.

Injuries sustained

A CT scan showed serious head injuries with a 20mm haematoma and he required urgent surgery. He received continual treatment and CT scans through the month of August. The victim was initially discharged from hospital on 14 August 2018, but was re-admitted to hospital on 27 August 2018 for urgent surgery due to complications with his injury.

The victim returned to work on suitable duties in or around 16 May 2019 and was deemed fully recovered on 8 August 2019 and continued working as an Airline Service Agent up until his resignation in March 2021. He continues to experience pain in his head and back and suffers frequent, stressful nightmares about falling out of Tug VB6345.

While there was a wide variety of potential outcomes from a fall, the risk of an uncontrolled ejection resulting in a serious injury was high. There is general industry recognition of the importance of seat belts for tug operators and passengers.

Inspection and modifications following the incident

On 20 August 2018, an inspection of Tug VB6435 was conducted by "Adaptalift GSE" following the incident, who compiled a report. The tug had been secured and left undisturbed since the incident. Faults identified by Adaptalift included that there were no seat belts fitted and there was no speedometer.

Modifications were made to Tug VB6435 following the incident. The tug was fitted with a driver's seatbelt and had the passenger's seat removed. A seatbelt cut off switch was also installed which prevents the tug from running without the seatbelt engaged.

Swissport also amended their GSE Daily Checklist to include a requirement for the assessor to check for the fitment of seatbelts on all driveable GSE used around the Swissport network across all Australian Airports. Prior to 10 August 2018, Swissport already had a procedure requiring daily equipment checks, but Tug VB6435 had not been identified as being defective.

Following the incident all equipment in the Perth Operations was risk assessed by Swissport, and all driveable equipment was checked and ensured to have seatbelts, hip guards and either speedometers or speed limiters.


Both Swissport's own written procedures and those of the airline company that applied to Swissport, prior to 10 August 2018, were that seatbelts must be worn when fitted. However, they did not purport to prohibit driving or riding on GSE that was not fitted with seatbelts.

The driver underwent a two week training process, which comprised one week in the classroom and one week of manual on-site training. He recalled being trained to wear seatbelts where applicable, which he understood to mean when provided, and that the electric tugs would not move if the seatbelt was not plugged in.

The driver had also assumed that Tug VB6435 had been assessed as safe for use and put into service. He did not conduct any form of a "Pre Start" on Tug VB6435 prior to its use, as he had never been instructed to do this. While the driver had conducted "GSE Checks" on conveyors and stairs, he had never been instructed how to conduct these checks on tugs, and he never conducted a GSE check of a tug.

Absence of risk assessment

A risk assessment should have taken place before Tug VB6435 was used at Perth Airport. However, no risk assessment had been conducted on Tug VB6435 prior to it coming into service.

The Swissport Airport Manager confirmed that had a risk assessment been completed prior to 10 August 2018, it would have ensured that Tug VB6435 had seatbelts fitted.

Outcome Summary

The Offender entered a guilty plea on 9 February 2022 and was convicted.  On 20 July 2022 the Magistrate sentenced the Offender and issued a fine of $110,000 and ordered costs of $8,000.

Court Magistrates Court of Western Australia - Perth
Costs $8000.00

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