Worker Crushed to Death when Radio Protocol Failed

Hired to assist in building a new jetty at John Holland’s Dalrymple Bay Coal terminal, a worker engaged in transporting large concrete blocks placed on a platform, supported at either end by a ‘jinker’ or trailer.

Though propelled by a front-end loader, an operator walking beside the jinkers operated the steering mechanism with a remote control device. However, the jinkers lacked any braking mechanism, and so the front jinker operator also acted as a spotter. As a consequence of this work procedure, the driver of the front-end loader possessed the critical obligation to stop when required by the spotter.

The worker, acting that day in the role of front jinker operator, noticed a number of scaffolding planks blocking the front-end loader’s path. He radioed the driver to tell him to stop and then began clearing the obstruction with a colleague. The message remained unacknowledged, and the front-end loader kept approaching.

When the worker attempted to get out of the way, his leg caught under a scaffolding plank. His mate working alongside him attempted to signal the driver but the message still did not get through. The jinker ran over him, and crushed him to death.

In court, John Holland pleaded guilty to failing to take all reasonably practicable steps to protect the health and safety at work of its employees.

The court noted that “the amount of the penalty should reflect the court’s view of the seriousness of the offending conduct in all the relevant circumstances”.

Furthermore, John Holland admitted both its part in the deceased’s death and the foreseeability of the risk of death occurring because of the moving of large loads at the terminal. However, it failed to adequately identify and address the specific risks in its work methods.

The vulnerability of its workers when moving a load, combined with the failure to implement an appropriate radio protocol, including a backup emergency plan, suggested systemic failure.
Simple measures could easily avoid the dangers of transporting the concrete blocks using this method.

Nevertheless, these controls went “unrecognised and unaddressed in a manner which raises the objective gravity of the offence in these proceedings towards the higher end of the scale”.

This conclusion led the court to hand down a penalty against John Holland of
$200k, which it reduced by 10% because of the company’s early guilty plea.
Comcare v John Holland Limited