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Company Director Fined For WHS Breach

GavelThe director of a boat-making business Seawind Catamarans has been fined $6500 for a 2008 breach of workplace safety laws resulting in the death of a 25-year-old worker.

WorkCover NSW charged company director Richard Ward with contravening the NSW Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The worker, Michael Parsons was unable to be revived after he was found unconscious inside the hull of a catamaran at the factory site on the afternoon of August 25, 2008.

An inquest found Mr Parsons died from a heart arrhythmia caused by acute exposure to industrial solvent within the confined hull area.

Workcover argued that the company, and in turn Ward as the company’s sole director, failed to ensure the health, safety and welfare of its employees, in particular Mr Parsons.

WorkCover said Seawind failed to install a dedicated extraction ventilation to prevent the build-up of chemical fumes inside boat hulls, did not provide adequate fans within the hull, failed to limit the use of harmful chemicals in its construction process and did not enforce the use of personal protective equipment by employees.

Ward pleaded guilty to the charge shortly before a hearing was due to begin in the NSW Industrial Court. Presiding judge, Justice Conrad Staff, found the risk to Seawind workers in the company breaching its OH&S responsibilities was “grave and … obvious and known.”

He said Seawind was aware of the need for both mechanical ventilation and the use of personal respiratory protective equipment. It was also aware staff rarely used such equipment, he found.

He accepted evidence that Seawind “warned” its employees, including Mr Parsons, about the dangers posed by solvents but believed the warnings were inadequate.

“In my view, the general warnings given to workers and the steps taken by the company in the face of a known and serious risk to safety were, in all the circumstances of this matter, entirely inadequate and unsatisfactory,” Justice Staff said.

The court heard that since Mr Parsons’ death, Seawind had made sweeping changes to its OH&S systems, including upgrading ventilation systems, banning all non WorkCover-approved solvent dispensing bottles, replacing several cleaning solvents with non-toxic cleaning agents, making mandatory the use of protective gear and having in-house chemical training.

In determining an appropriate punishment, Justice Staff accepted that Ward was extremely remorseful for what had happened.

The court heard Seawind had no prior convictions for similar offences and had been an “impressive contributor” to providing employment in the Illawarra for more than 30 years.

“The maximum penalty in respect of [Ward] is $55,000,” Justice Staff said. “Taking into account the appropriate seriousness of the offence, the strong subjective factors, particularly those [that are] the subject of the defendant’s evidence, I impose a fine of $6500.”

 

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Safety Concepts is an online resource providing up to date insights and covering issues in the field of Workplace Safety.

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