Tuesday 11 October 2011

Safety issues ignored, young truck driver dies

A drilling rig supervisor who told an inexperienced 21-year-old man to drive a truck with defective brakes and no seat belt down a steep slope before the vehicle crashed, killing the driver, has been sentenced to 20 months in prison, suspended for three years.  

County Court Judge Rizkalla said the sentence meant any offence in the next three years for which a prison sentence was applicable meant Maurice Barton could go to jail.

Mr Barton, 42 was in charge of a three-person crew doing exploratory drilling for gold near Clonbinane north of Melbourne in December 2006.

Twenty-one-year-old Bradley Alford died when the truck went out of control on a steep slope, overturned, and crushed him.

He had only obtained his truck license for just over two weeks before the incident and it was his first job away from Western Australia where he’d been raised.

A witness who had worked in the drilling industry for 10 years said the slope was the steepest he’d seen a truck driven down.

Judge Rizkalla said Barton had let the young worker down.

She said the incident had forced him to sell his house to cover legal costs, the stress of the incident undermined his relationship with his partner from whom he was now separated and as a result he did not often see his four-year-old son.

The acting director of WorkSafe’s construction and utilities division, Allan Beacom, said it was essential that health and safety issues were dealt with when they were raised.

“The knowledge that the hand-brake was not working should have rung alarm bells as should the difficult driving conditions and the driver’s level of experience, Mr Beacom said.

“This decision again highlights the high level of duty and the consequences borne by people in supervisory positions,” he said.

Perth-based company Orbit Drilling Pty Ltd, which employed Mr Alford, pleaded guilty in April 2010 to one charge of recklessly engaging in conduct that places another person at a workplace at risk of serious injury (section 32 OHS Act) and was convicted and fined $750,000.

Martin John Smith, the director of Orbit Drilling Pty Ltd, pleaded guilty to one charge of being an officer of a company which breached its obligations to provide or maintain for employees plant and systems of work that were safe and without risks to health.  As the responsible officer, he was convicted and fined $120,000, in April 2010..

Orbit Drilling and Mr Smith have appealed against their sentences.

Further Information

WorkSafe media enquiries: Rosanna Bonaccurso 0478 305 640

Public enquiries: Call the WorkSafe Advisory Service on 1800 136 089 between 8:30am and 5pm Monday to Friday, email info@worksafe.vic.gov.au or write to Advisory Service, PO Box 4306, Melbourne, 3001.