Shire of Waroona fined $110,000 over death of man at refuse site

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The Shire of Waroona has been fined $110,000 (and ordered to pay $8336.30 in costs) over the August 2013 death of a man at its Buller Road refuse site.

The Shire pleaded guilty to failing to provide and maintain a safe workplace for a person who was not an employee, and was fined in the Mandurah Magistrates Court today.

The man who died was the uncle of the manager of the refuse site.  He was not formally employed, but was permitted by his nephew to attend the site from time to time to assist with some of the tasks.

The site catered for general rubbish and the disposal and treatment of septic tank contents, and included a series of liquid waste ponds located inside a wastewater treatment compound.

The compound was enclosed by a 2.5 metre high Cyclone wire fence with lockable gates at each end.  None of the five liquid waste ponds was individually fenced.

In August 2013, the site manager was operating a front end loader and saw his uncle walking nearby.  Later, he saw his uncle’s dog wandering near the loader, looking agitated and smelling of septic waste.

The manager went to look for his uncle, discovering that his uncle had not turned off the pump to one of the ponds as would have been expected.

He was not able to find his uncle and called police.  They could not locate the man and asked that the ponds be pumped out, and the man’s body was found two days later at the bottom of one of the ponds.  It is not known precisely how he came to enter the pond.

WorkSafe WA Commissioner Lex McCulloch said today the tragic events could have been avoided if the waste ponds had been secured and automated pumps installed.

“After this tragic event, WorkSafe inspectors issued the Shire of Waroona with five improvement notices, one of which required them to install a fence around each pond within 24 hours,” Mr McCulloch said.

“The Shire also installed an automated pump system which could be operated from outside the compound, significantly reducing the number of times a person was required to enter the compound.

“The total cost of all these measures was just over $14,000.  It would have been practicable for the Shire to have taken these measures a lot sooner, and it may have prevented the sad loss of this man.

“This case should serve as a reminder that all employers have a duty of care to ensure their workplaces remain safe for anyone entering them by conducting careful risk assessments and taking action to reduce or eliminate those risks.

“That clearly was not done in this case, and as a consequence a life was lost.”

Media contact: Caroline De Vaney 6251 2363 or 0408 927563 (media enquiries only)

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Media release
28 Jul 2016

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