Pool company fined $1.5 million for industrial manslaughter

A Queensland-based swimming pool company was recently convicted and fined $1.5 million after pleading guilty to industrial manslaughter regarding an incident in which a worker was killed by a mobile crane.

The company, Narellan Pools, manufactures, distributes and sells inground fibreglass swimming pools. As part of its operations, it owned and operated a Franna-12 tonne mobile crane that was used to move pools during different parts of the manufacture process, and when ready to be delivered.

Narellan Pools employed a yard foreman at its Stapylton worksite, and the foreman’s role included acting as a dogger when the company was moving pools on the crane.

Narellan Pools also employed a facility manager, and a mobile crane operator, however, he had a history of driving the crane at speed, resulting in being warned on several occasions by colleagues to slow down.

Three months before the incident, he hit a parked car with the crane, and on the day of the incident, he was challenged about driving the crane too fast. His manner of driving had previously been raised with the facility manager.

On 19 August 2021 at around 12pm, the yard foreman was acting as a dogger while the crane operator used the crane to move pools around the facility. He reversed the mobile crane, slinging a 650kg fibreglass pool.

The foreman, holding the tether line, walked alongside it, to the left of the crane. The crane operator drove forward and the foreman walked in front, between the crane and the suspended pool, standing approximately half a metre between the load and the front corner of the crane.

However, after around 15 seconds, the distance between the crane operator and the foreman closed, and he was struck by the crane and knocked to the ground. The crane operator continued driving over the top of the worker.

After feeling a bump and not being able to see the worker, the crane operator reversed. A colleague ran out to help, and another worker came to render first aid. Paramedics were called and promptly started CPR, but the worker died at the scene.

A workplace investigation revealed that Narellan Pools did not have a traffic management system, did not have a safe work method statement or documented safe operating procedure for the operation of the crane, did not have procedure in place for exclusion zones and did not provide training on dogger or rigging duties.

Spotters were also not used, and there was no system of communication between the dogger and crane operator. It also revealed that the facility manager was aware of the practice of doggers walking in front of the crane.

In sentencing, the court noted that, although the defendant had mechanisms for work health and safety compliance, as would be expected of a corporation employing a significant number of employees and operating this type of business, and it further engaged consultancy firms to identify work health and safety risks, at no time in respect of any of its sites were the risks leading to this tragic accident identified.

His Honour found that this was a serious oversight for Narellan Pools as a corporation that runs a manufacturing business employing 126 staff across Australia.

The judge also said the oversight was both glaring and surprising with the benefit of hindsight, particularly when coupled with the tragic consequences and that the crane operator was clearly operating a crane in a dangerous manner well before the incident.

Furthermore, steps had not been taken by employees of the defendant who had a responsibility to prevent this continuing.

In mitigation, the judge said the response of Narellan Pools post-incident was appropriate (including by making an ex-gratia payment to the family of the deceased worker and creating a memorial at the incident site), and accepted that the defendant has no prior convictions and is otherwise a good corporate citizen with an excellent record of giving products and money to worthy charities.