FOSTERS Australia Limited has received Victoria’s biggest ever fine under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004* for serious safety failings which led to the death of a worker at its Abbotsford (Melbourne) brewery in April 2006.
Imposing a $1.125-million fine and conviction, Judge Jane Campton said a reasonable employer would have foreseen the danger posed by the unguarded machine and taken steps to make it safer, but Fosters chose not to with tragic consequences.
A 58-year-old Wantirna man was crushed between a handrail and the pneumatically operated door of a machine that takes bottles from pallets before they are filled He died in hospital six days later. Later safety improvements at the brewery cost $3.9-million.
Judge Campton said Fosters’ failings were at the higher end of the scale because there had been a similar incident on a near-identical machine nearly three-and-a-half-years previously. Had it not been for the guilty plea, the fine would have been $1.5-million, she said.
Fosters Australia pleaded guilty to two charges laid under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which provides for a maximum fine of more than $943,000 on each charge.
WorkSafe Victoria’s Executive Director, John Merritt welcomed the fine, but said the family was devastated.
“They’ve lost a husband and father who worked hard to give them the opportunities he did not have, but he won’t be there to enjoy his children’s success.”
He said the company’s failings were not uncommon.
“The problem had been identified, someone had been hurt previously, the solution was known and it wasn’t fixed until after a man had died.
“The opportunities to make improvements were repeatedly deferred.”
Mr Merritt said it was increasingly recognised that business was not just about making a return for investors.
“This company is successful and should be setting an example by ensuring the highest safety standards are maintained.
“With listed companies now in their ‘reporting season’, they have the opportunity to transparently report on their health and safety performance – for better or worse — and to identify what will be done in the future.
“It tests the commitment to broad-based corporate performance improvement and protects the interests of workers, the business and investors.
“This is an opportunity to demonstrate a genuine safety commitment to the business and its people”, Mr Merritt said.
“Being a good corporate citizen is not just about sponsoring charities, grassroots community projects and having good environmental standards. A successful business is a safe business.”
Fosters defence counsel said machines at Abbotsford had been made safer and staff had extra training after the death.