Valley Sweep and its director Anton Zakic pleaded guilty in the Latrobe Valley Magistrates’ Court to a single charge each under the Occupational Health and Safety Act of failing to provide and maintain safe plant.
The company was fined $388,650 and Zakic $77,730 last week, the maximum penalties available after the tragic death of employee Damien Taifer, 21, in May 2017.
The court was told Valley Sweep had entered into a hire agreement to provide another company with a water cart truck and a driver in April 2017.
Less than a month later, Taifer was killed when the truck he was driving rolled while travelling down a long, steep, curved section of road near the town of Noojee.
The court heard that at about 8.35am a driver who was beginning his ascent of Red Hill described seeing Taifer’s truck travelling down towards him at an estimated speed of “well over 60 kph”.
As he passed, the witness said Taifer appeared to be sitting high in his seat, “almost standing up in the seat fighting with the truck”, before seeing the vehicle roll in his rear-view mirror.
A forensic engineer engaged by WorkSafe Victoria concluded the poor condition of the truck’s brakes, including being improperly adjusted, was the primary cause of the crash.
It was revealed the truck had last undergone a major inspection and servicing by an external mechanic in December 2015.
Zakic and another Valley Sweep employee had performed some maintenance and repair work for the company’s fleet of trucks and had worked on the water tanker, but neither were qualified mechanics.
The court also heard the driver had not received any formal training in the operation of water cart trucks, which have unique handling characteristics, or any supervised training in driving a water cart truck in difficult conditions such as a steep or curved descent.
WorkSafe Victoria Executive Director of Health and Safety Julie Nielsen said there was no excuse for the employer’s behaviour.
“This company’s director made a reckless decision to perform service and maintenance work on the water truck himself, even though he knew he wasn’t qualified to do so,” Nielsen said.
“This failure to take reasonable care left a dangerous vehicle on the road and ultimately cost a young worker his life.”
WorkSafe Victoria said that to manage risks employers should:
- Ensure appropriate safe systems of work are in place and that these are regularly monitored, reviewed and, if necessary, revised.
- Ensure regular vehicle inspections, servicing and maintenance are undertaken by suitably competent persons in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.
- Ensure pre-operations checks are conducted daily on essential components such as brakes, steering, tyres (including pressure), indicators, oil leaks and suspension and have defects rectified by competent persons.
- Not allow untrained, unlicensed or inexperienced people to operate vehicles.
- Implement a system to ensure people are competent to conduct the work – this should include instructions, information about the work, mentoring and assessment, toolbox training and refresher training even for experienced employees.
- Establish appropriate rules and standards for safe road use (including speed limits for travel and manoeuvres) taking into account the load factor of a vehicle, movement of liquid and its effect on the stability of a vehicle, increased breaking distances due to the surge of liquid within a tank and changing environments and conditions.
- Communicate all safety information to drivers and others (eg load information for those responsible for loading and driving vehicles) to enable them to perform their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health.