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September 2019

Workers threatened with dismissal after raising health and safety concerns

WorkSafe Victoria v Patrick Stevedores Holdings Pty Ltd (2018)

The Case

Patrick Stevedores Holdings Pty Ltd (Company) operated a port in Hastings, Victoria. In February 2009, a client of the Company delivered 800 steel coils to a warehouse at the port, so that the coils could be loaded onto vessels.

The coils were of varying sizes and weights, and the port stevedores were concerned that the heavier coils would exceed the safe working load of the forklifts being used. The team leader phoned the port manager, who told him to “fix it”. However, the team leader was unable to locate a suitable forklift. The port manager then suggested a different method of loading the coils. The team leader and an appointed health and safety representative determined that this method was also unsafe.

Upon alerting the port manager of their conclusion, the port manager berated the team leader, threatening him, the health and safety representative and other employees with their jobs if they continued to make health and safety complaints and failed to follow his orders.

Later the next day, after expressing their concerns, the port manager made further representations to certain employees that there was a ‘reform’ list, and threatened them with being placed on this list, despite such a list never existing.

WorkSafe inspectors attended the warehouse a day later and declared that the port manager’s proposed method of using the forklifts was unsuitable.

The Verdict

The Magistrates’ Court found the Company guilty on six counts, including threatening to dismiss employees because they were a health and safety representative or because they raised health and safety issues or concerns. The Company was convicted and ordered to pay a fine totalling $475,000.

The Lessons

You must have strict health and safety procedures in place with which workers of all levels of management are required to follow. Make it clear to workers the importance of health and safety measures, and promote an environment where workers are encouraged to raise their health and safety concerns.

It is also important to ensure that health and safety representatives are not discriminated against or victimised as a result of their position.

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