Great Southern vineyard fined $60,000 over worker fall

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A vineyard and winery at Frankland River has been fined $60,000 over an incident in which a worker fell from a ladder and was seriously injured.

Ferngrove Vineyards Ltd pleaded guilty to failing to provide and maintain a safe workplace and, by that failure, causing serious harm to a worker and was fined in the Albany Magistrates Court last month.

In July 2008, an employee of Ferngrove was engaged in his duty of cleaning the outside of a six-metre-tall wine tank using an extension ladder to access the upper reaches of the tank.

The employee extended the ladder to almost its full height and was working near the top of the ladder with his feet at least 2.9 metres from the floor. The ladder was not secured to the tank in any way, nor was the employee otherwise secured from falling.

He fell from the ladder, leaving finger marks on the tank at a height of around 5.1 metres. There were no witnesses to the incident.

The worker sustained serious head injuries and was airlifted to Perth in a critical condition, where he underwent surgery to relieve pressure on his brain.

WorkSafe WA Commissioner Lex McCulloch said today the case should serve as a reminder of the importance of having measures in place to prevent falls.

“Falls are almost always readily preventable, and it need not be difficult or costly to ensure that safe systems of work are in place at all times,” Mr McCulloch said.

“This employer failed to ensure that ladders were used in a safe manner when employees were in danger of falling a substantial distance, contrary to workplace safety laws.

“Falls are one of the most significant causes of workplace death in the construction industry, and 16 Western Australian workers have died as a result of falls in the last four years.

“In this case, the fall – and the suffering of the worker – could have been avoided simply by ensuring that another employee assisted by holding the ladder, as detailed in the company’s occupational safety and health manual.

“The employee was not provided with any formal training on the use of ladders, nor was he instructed in the need to secure an extension ladder against slippage and lateral movement.

“Subsequent to this incident, the employer prohibited the use of extension ladders in this fashion, and ensured that extension poles were available at the workplace to clean the tanks from ground level.

“All this was unfortunately too late for the worker who fell and suffered serious injuries.

“A Code of Practice on fall prevention has existed in WA for more than 20 years. The current code is comprehensive, providing information on the identification of common fall hazards and the correct use of appropriate ladders and fall arrest and prevention equipment.

“I urge any employer in control of a workplace that presents a risk of falls to ensure this code is available in the workplace at all times.”

Further information on the prevention of falls can be obtained by telephoning WorkSafe on 1300 307877.  The Code of Practice on the Prevention of Falls in Workplaces can be downloaded at no cost from the WorkSafe website at .

Media contact:  Caroline De Vaney 9327 8744 or 0408 927563 (media enquiries only). 

Media release
06 Mar 2012

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