Overriding safety results in serious WHS breach

15 March 2021

A crane company and its director were convicted of breaching the WHS Act by failing to plan for the job and disregarding the crane’s safety features. Despite a recorded conviction, pecuniary penalties were not imposed.

In issue

  • The South Australian Employment Tribunal considered whether a crane company breached its health and safety duty (s 32 Work, Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA) (WHS Act)) by failing to adequately plan for the job including the completion of a risk assessment provided to its employee, and failing to ensure the job analysis was adequately completed by its employee.

The background

In December 2017, White Crane and Rigging Service (WCRS) and its director and employee, Mr White, were engaged to remove pine trees which had already been cut. The crane was supplied by another business and Mr White drove the crane to the site where a 'generic job safety analysis document' provided from the crane supplier was signed.

The operating system of the crane required a load chart to be entered to allow for a configuration of the crane requirements to be lifted, to determine the boom length, boom angle and radius of the load. Mr White did not enter the correct load chart into the system. In this circumstance, the crane would engage a “motion cut” which stops certain crane operations of load limits are exceeded as a safety precaution.

Mr White was lifting a section of the pine tree and the cables of the boom of the crane had become entangled. Mr White tried to disentangle the cables by lowering the boom. This exceeded the load limit, and Mr White overrode the motion cut, causing the crane to tip upwards from the rear and the boom fell forwards onto two motor vehicles.

The Deputy President Magistrate received Victim Impact Statements from each of the two victims who have lost their vehicles and referred to personal anxiety and stress due to the incident.

The decision

The Deputy President Magistrate stated the breaches in the circumstance are serious and the risk of serious injury or death from a crane is real:

'Safety cut outs are designed for and directed at problems which have been sensed, and which require attention. Overriding a safety warning is in itself an unacceptable and risky thing to do. A crane operator should be careful and vigilant, should prepare properly for the job to be done, and should respond to hazards which are identified, and warnings which are provided.'

WCRS and Mr White pled guilty to s 32 of the WHS Act, creating a risk of serious injury or death to others by failing to accurately measure and record certain distances and locations in the crane’s computer system, and by overriding the safety function on the crane. Convictions were recorded against WCRS and Mr White, and both were required to pay Victims of Crime levy of $160 each. It was concluded that, 'Inadequate job planning, and overriding the crane’s safety mechanism are at the core of the statutory breaches.'

WCRS and Mr White did not have any assets or income. Mr White was currently studying to be a nurse, was in receipt of Austudy allowances, had debts of $90,000 with his wife and five children, and the family home was 'repossessed'. As a result, no pecuniary penalty was imposed on either WCRS or Mr White. In ordinary circumstances, WCRS would have been fined $150,000 and Mr White, $15,000 before any discount.

Implications for you

This case is a reminder for businesses and their workers to comply with the safety measures in place, designed to prevent accidents and injuries. It is an imperative that employers and their employees properly plan for a job, and respond to hazards appropriately when identified by having control measures.

Job safety analysis documents or Safe Work Method Statements should be drafted specifically for the job and location, and should be complemented with a discussion to ensure everyone is aware of the potential risks and hazards, and how to respond appropriately with the control measures. It is also important to check such documentation is being used appropriately.

Campbell v White Family Property Investments Pty Ltd trading as White Crane and Rigging Service and White [2021] SAET 33 (24 February 2021)

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