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Fonterra convicted and fined after workplace death

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Unsafe storage has resulted in an industry-wide warning from WorkSafe after dairy products manufacturer Fonterra Australia Pty Ltd was convicted and fined $300,000 in the Melbourne County Court.

WorkSafe’s General Manager for Operations, Lisa Sturzenegger, said all businesses had to ensure they could safely store bulk products or other stock.

Fonterra Australia pleaded guilty to one charge* after a forklift driver died at its Stanhope cheese factory in September 2009. WorkSafe’s investigation found the man died when a one-tonne bag of salt fell on him.

Judge Frank Gucciardo said the system for stacking bags at Stanhope was unsafe.

He said it was not until after the man’s death that a safe racking system was put in place and a written procedure developed. Had it not been for its guilty plea, Fonterra would have been fined $400,000.

WorkSafe’s investigation found the practice of stacking bulk salt bags at Stanhope was unsafe as the tops of lower bags may not be sufficiently level to safely accommodate those on top.

The danger was such that if the surface of a bag was not level, even a small disturbing force could cause the stack to topple.

Marking the start of WorkSafe Week, Sturzenegger said common safety failings involving routine tasks cause the overwhelming majority of workplace injuries and deaths.

“In this case the bags of salt were delivered and stacked every week. The lesson for others is to understand the potential safety issues, consult with the workforce and fix problems.

“It’s extraordinary how quickly things can change in the workplace so it’s important that regular reviews are carried out and ensure people stay up to date.

“When disaster strikes, there’s no going back. Fixing issues after the event is not the solution.

“Incidents like this one hit families, businesses and communities hard. They have long-term-effects.

“Getting safety right means no one has to go through what this family and this company have had to,” Sturzenegger said.

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