Coates Hire accepts big fine increase

By CAMERON-LUCADOU-WELLS

A CONTRITE chief executive of an equipment hire company says he won’t fight a $500,000 fine over a workplace death in Dandenong five years ago.

Last Monday, the Court of Appeal doubled a “manifestly inadequate” $250,000 penalty that had been handed down by the County Court against Coates Hire Operations for the death of a 44-year-old Cranbourne South man in February 2007. The case had been appealed by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Colin Todd, who was employed by Coates subcontractor Redline Towing and Salvage, died while loading an elevated work platform (EWP) onto a semi-trailer tilt tray truck at Coates Dandenong depot.

He had driven the EWP onto the truck rather than using a winch cable, contravening Coates’ safety procedures, which had not been given to him.

A WorkSafe inspector had found that during the fatality the EWP’s rear wheels lifted and the EWP slid down the truck’s tray. It “struck the asphalt with considerable force”, crushing and dragging Mr Todd against the ground.

The inspector said the fatality would not have happened if the EWP had been loaded with a winch.

The court said that it was “inexplicable” that occupational health and safety manager Bill Deans had failed to enforce the use of a winch cable “when he knew [the safety requirement] was being breached” months earlier.

The court found that “the fact that a Coates employee was killed as a result of the very danger which the safety procedure was designed to eliminate makes Coates’s disregard of employee safety a matter of very high culpability”.

Coates Hire chief executive Leigh Ainsworth said the company accepted the outcome and the DPP’s right to challenge the original penalty. He said the company had tightened its safety practices since the fatality.

He said the $250,000 extra fine would have an impact on the company but the greater deterrent was the “moral side of it”.

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