$50,000 fine issued after forklift load falls on worker

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A fruit and vegetable wholesaler has been fined $50,000 after a worker was struck by a load falling from a forklift at its Breakwater warehouse in Victoria.

Geelong Citrus Packers was sentenced in Geelong Magistrates’ Court after pleading guilty to two charges of failing to provide or maintain safe systems of work. The company was also ordered to pay costs of $4331.

In July 2021, a worker was washing the wheels of a truck parked in a loading area with his back to a forklift being used to load empty fruit bins onto a trailer, when some of the bins became unsteady and fell on him.

He suffered fractures and two breaks to his lower spine. An investigation found that the company had a traffic management plan but it did not adequately eliminate or reduce the risk of forklifts colliding with pedestrians.

The court heard it was reasonably practicable to provide a system that separated workers washing truck wheels from areas where forklifts operated.

Geelong Citrus Packers also failed to instruct workers not to do such work near moving forklifts, ensure forklift operators had the training to operate safely without risks to other workers, and provide a traffic management plan that controlled the risks of forklifts injuring workers.

In March 2022, WorkSafe inspectors again visited the workplace and observed keys left in the ignition of every forklift at the workplace allowing unauthorised use, seatbelts wrapped around the seats of two forklifts so that drivers could operate the forklifts without wearing them, and forklifts being operated close to other workers within the swing zone of the counterweight.

WorkSafe Victoria executive director of health and safety, Narelle Beer, said employers have no excuse for not protecting workers from the well-known hazards of forklifts.

“Forklifts can be a valuable workplace tool, but they can also be dangerous if risks are not properly assessed and suitable controls put in place,” Beer said.

“We know that forklifts and pedestrians don’t mix, that’s why it’s essential to have an up to date traffic management plan when working with forklifts.”