A major Gippsland company specialising in vegetable growing, processing and distribution was convicted and fined $85,000 for two separate incidents in which one worker was run over by a tractor attachment and another fell into an uncovered drainage pit.
Covino Farms Pty Ltd pleaded guilty in the Latrobe Magistrates Court yesterday to two breaches of the OHS Act 2004 for failing to provide and maintain safe systems of work. It was also ordered to pay costs of $22,933.
The two incidents occurred at the company’s Longford farm near Sale in East Gippsland.
On 31 January 2015, a worker was operating a tractor towing an improvised spinach seed planter.
The court heard that the worker had reduced the speed of the tractor to check if seeds were being planted properly when he fell to the ground and was run over by the seeder attachment.
The worker ran more than 100m after the moving tractor and managed to climb into it and stop the engine before calling the farm manager for assistance.
The worker suffered four fractured ribs, a fracture to his cheek bone and a dislocated neck which put pressure on his spinal cord. He remained in hospital for two weeks and was required to wear a neck collar for two months.
During its investigation, WorkSafe found that the company had no standard operating procedure in place for the safe operation of tractors. For this incident the company was fined $70,000.
On 23 February 2015 a worker climbing down a ladder in the carrot cleaning area stepped into an uncovered box drain at the base of the ladder.
The court heard that a steel mesh grate covering the drain had been removed to prevent flooding in the area but had not been put back in place.
The worker suffered a serious laceration to his right leg which required stitches. For this incident the company was fined $15,000.
WorkSafe Executive Director Health and Safety, Marnie Williams, said the company’s lack of consideration for the safety of its workers was staggering.
“This company has failed completely in its duty to provide safe systems of work for its employees,” Ms Williams said.
“The fact that two workers were seriously injured in separate incidents within the space of three weeks is appalling. Tractors and their attachments cause more deaths and injury on farms than any other piece of machinery, while falls are another leading cause of death and injury.
”That is why it’s critical for employers to ensure appropriate systems are in place.”
Ms Williams said the company was fortunate that both workers were not killed.
“This company is a major producer of fresh vegetables and employs hundreds of workers. It should be leading by example and not leaving safety to chance.”
Safety tips for tractors
• Never get on or off a moving tractor
• Consider the terrain where the tractor is used
• Ensure your tractor seat belt is fitted and in good working order
• Inspect equipment prior to use and ensure its maintained
• Consider traffic management and keep people and moving equipment separated.
For more information about safety on farms visit www.worksafe.vic.gov.au
Public enquiries: Call the WorkSafe Advisory Service on 1800 136 089 between 8:30am and 5pm Monday to Friday, email email@example.com or write to Advisory Service, PO Box 4306, Melbourne, 3001.