Three questions to ask, as cattle directors face imprisonment over workplace injury

Beef Central, 18/10/2023

In a continuing national trend, a Northern Territory cattle company, its director and another manager have been charged with safety offences which could see them spend time in prison.

The charges arise from work completed by two station hands who were tasked with fencing duties. One was operating a tractor with a post driver, while the other guided the fence posts into the ground. During the work, the worker placing the fence posts arm was crushed and it was later amputated.

NT WorkSafe laid six charges against the cattle company, the director and manager alleging they did not provide ‘adequate training or instruction, and a safe system of work was not implemented on the use of the tractor and post-driver.’

Brisbane legal firm McCullough Robertson says this adds to a national trend that has seen:

  • a Western Australian director imprisoned for two years following two employees falling from a farm shed roof while installing roof sheets, resulting in the death of one of the workers
  • a Northern Territory man performing cattle mustering work being placed on a two-year good behaviour bond and being ordered to pay a worker $20,000, after the worker suffered burns from using an angle grinder to cut open a drum previously filled with aviation fuel; and
  • a Queensland businessman being charged with industrial manslaughter and imprisoned for five years following the death of a worker when a generator fell from a forklift.

In an advice to clients and beef industry stakeholders, McCullough Robertson says that in light of these events, cattle companies, their directors and managers need to be able to answer these three questions:

  • What could kill or injure someone in your business? (e.g. working with machinery, heat, inexperienced workers)
  • What is in place to stop this occurring? (e.g. training, inductions, maintenance of equipment)
  • How is your business tracking on keeping people safe? (e.g. workplace inspections, audits, talking to workers about WHS).

If owners or managers cannot answer these questions, or if the answers raise concerns for their company, they may be at significant legal risk if something goes wrong, McCullough Robertson warned.
















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  1. Andrew Jefferson, 22/10/2023

    I have worked on both sides of this spectrum, from high vis high safety transport industry as a Diesel Mechanic and as a Jackeroo/ station mechanic in the Pilbara WA. The issue here is common sense, that is what farmers take for granted when they hire in outside help, especially woofers. This lawsuit buisness will kill most stations operations. The environment and the livestock on there own are very unsafe. There are no controls for it, a person just needs to have there wits about them.

  2. Kevin Gange, 21/10/2023

    There are a lot of stations I’ve found that their machines would not pass machinery test but want the operator to be ticket as hi as the moon

  3. Col, 20/10/2023

    Unfortunately risk management is thought to be difficult to those who have not been exposed to it.
    Basic common sense unfortunately is not so common any more. What is perceived as hazardous by 1 maybe not be by another. Experience is a great teacher and hindsight gives us 20/20 vision after the fact. Risk identification and perception of the actual risks and associated consequences of the risks identified again is experience based and comes from previous unfortunate circumstances of the past.
    Exposure or likelihood off the risk actually happening and causing injury or damage is just as critical as the risk it’s self.
    Ideas or mechanisms for controlling of risk to some maybe a new concept, especially for the older rural worker or the new to industry demographic.
    Risk mitigation by way of controlling either the risk, or the likelihood of the outcome from an event caused by the hazard, can be daunting, given that some risk mitigation controls may have a hefty financial impact to achieve.

    Further guidance and training in WHS along with risk identification, control and residual risk monitoring provided to the rural industries on a whole, will go some way to reducing such event from happening.

    Happy to share advise if required.

  4. Chris Shirley, 20/10/2023

    Just look at the type of blokes employed as managers, and you’ll understand the type of people who end up getting the jobs. The steady, thoughtful and cautious ones seldom get a look in. The industry seems to reward bravado more than a considered approach.
    Doesn’t help that the wage structure doesn’t reward staff development.

  5. Ratu Luke Tuicakau, 20/10/2023

    Any machinery used by anyone and anywhere & everywhere can hurt or kill someone who disregard and disrespect the importance of safety before using them . So common sense should automatically switch on by carefully focus on how to safely use them all the time. There is no short cuts or take the risk of being injured or killed.It is what it is just follow the instructions you will be safe.

  6. Andrew, 20/10/2023

    Actually, the third question is “are the controls to keep my workers safe, in place and working as intended”.
    You’ll typically inspect the workplace to answer this question, but if the answer is yes, then you won’t severely injure or kill someone which means you won’t fall foul of the law.

  7. Glenn the ranger!, 19/10/2023

    Workers need to use common sense and eyes and brain, not lawyers! Not owners or bosses fault for a probably hungover, brainless, irresponsible worker.

    • Paul Cauchi, 22/10/2023

      You still have a responsibility to make sure if they are under the influence of anything that places them or others in a workplace in danger of possible injuries or worse.

    • Pistol Pete, 22/10/2023

      Glen the Ranger. It would be nice to lump everyone in neat little boxes of right and wrong but sadly everything isn’t always black and white. It’s also clear you’ve never managed a large work force or you’d know that truly competent people with a brain in there head, are very thin on the ground. Maybe one day you’ll understand but sadly it’s not today

    • Phil Plummer, 21/10/2023

      Sorry it is the bosses or managers who need to check the user is in the right frame of mind to operate, drive, or use the equipment they r been asked to perform a certain duty the equipment is designed for.

  8. Val Dyer, 18/10/2023

    A wake up call.

  9. Peter F Dunn, 18/10/2023

    Fair warning. Employers and supervisors should take note, because appropriate care for employees is both required and expected, as it should be.
    However, let not the authorities claim the moral high ground.
    The introduction of workplace safety legislation several decades ago was mostly an absolute monster for employers and employees alike. WHS, as it was known in some states, was a very steep learning curve for most industries, because only two industries had (believe it or not, thanks to WW2) any significant background with safety standards and procedures.
    Rather than bore readers with experiences of WHS maladministration through inexperience and overzealousness, let me say that contemporary authorities and inspectorates (as would their clients) benefit greatly from the qualities of reasonableness, practicality, and balance (and which I am sure each and every authority/inspector currently possesses!!).

    • Edward Bartos, 19/10/2023

      The duty of care performance based WHS legislation is highly flexible and adaptable to all sectors and industries. You have a basic duty for your employees physical and psychological health. You have a legal obligation to identify all hazards ( anything that can cause harm) and control associated risks in as far as is reasonably practicable. You use the hierarchy of control and a risk matrix. All mandated protocols and very simple to use. Various Codes provide guidance advise. Mandated consultation arrangements provide a two directional flow of information from workers to management and vice versa. This is critical to hazard I’d and risk control measures. That is it. It is not a purely top down regulatory system. It adapts to any change in the work environment. Be that on a cattle station or in an office. Just got to have people involved that are trained WHS professionals involved. Easy

      • Carmel, 20/10/2023

        The problem is many farm owners don’t know the risks either so how can they identify them to employees. My brother almost died in an onfarm accident but he was owner so you are saying if he was able to employ others to work for him, he would be sued and go to jail if an employee had been in his position ie under a bale of hay being unloaded from a truck or would the truck or crane owner be the one sued.

        • Len, 22/10/2023

          When it comes to identifying hazards if a manager doesn’t have the knowledge they should hire a person qualified in the activity with the essential knowledge to help identify hazards and implement controls. Then employees performing the tasks have to be trained in using the controls and use those controls. This is what’s called doing what a is reasonable for a manager.

        • David, 21/10/2023

          Sorry to hear about your brother almost dieing.
          Having worked extensively in mining and having also been involved in agriculture for years the contrast is stark.
          Sadly I’ve seen injuries in both fields!
          Mining now takes safety seriously.
          BEFORE WORK STARTS assess risks and control them as a team.
          In contrast AG seems to be 95% focused with just keeping the work moving forward and safety is relegated to just using ones common sense.
          Common sense says dont get under a load but unfortunately it still happens.
          Having a quick chat with your work mates before starting, looking at the hazards and controlling for them saves lives!
          If you’re not prepared or willing to do this, Australian society says you’re not valuing life, you shouldn’t be in business and if you hurt someone you should be prepared for jail!

  10. Greg Campbell, 18/10/2023

    A couple of other risks to add to those mentioned.
    Anything being compressed – a coil spring, a tyre, a gas cylinder – presents a risk and you need a safe procedure.
    Anything heavy or sharp being lifted off the ground or a landing.
    Anybody working at Heights needs a safe system.
    Not to mention working with large animals – training and good yards/methods.
    Someone working alone needs formalised communication and follow-up.
    The legislation is now inclined to treat any serious accident as someone’s fault and even if the person hurt was being an idiot at the time, you can’t win in the court of public opinion by blaming them.

    Thanks for your comment Greg. We’d add welding or cutting steel drums to the list, as mentioned in the article. Any vapour left from previous flammable liquids they contained can be lethal – they go off like a bomb. A neighbour of ours was killed in this way in the 1960s, and another friend, a helicopter pilot, spent a month in hospital after trying to cut a drum. Editor

    • Bob Radcliffe, 19/10/2023

      Maybe, the highest qualification an employer should look for, is common sense, and the ability to think before you act….

      • Mark Develyn, 20/10/2023

        I agree with Bob.
        Where is common sense gone. If you ain’t got common sense then I doubt any training will help. People need to be held accountable for their actions not the boss.

      • Carmel, 20/10/2023

        Yes and how can a landowner identify in an interview process what level of common sense a prospective employee has? Previous farm experience is not going to guarantee the person is safety conscious. Its not even something that can be taught by parents as one child can be very safety conscious and another keen to take risks and ignore possible dangers. Maybe the farm owner should then countersue because the employee did not declare dna and propensity to act before thinking of possible consequences.

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