Defence fined $350,000 after RAAF worker critically injured

By Shannon Jenkins

Tuesday March 16, 2021

Defence air force plane
Royal Australian Airforce personnel stand in front of the new full fleet of Australian EA-18G Growler airborne electronic attack aircraft 2017. (AAP Image/Samantha Manchee)

The Department of Defence will pay $350,000 after being convicted of an incident that left a man’s leg severed while working at a Royal Australian Air Force base in 2017.

Defence has pleaded guilty in the Townsville Magistrates Court to exposing a person to risk of death or serious injury under the commonwealth Work Health and Safety Act 2011, regulator Comcare revealed on Monday.

Comcare noted that the incident occurred at the Townsville RAAF base in August 2017, when personnel were attempting to remove nylon tape from an aircraft arrestor unit designed to stop planes during emergency landings. They were using a tow motor to remove the tape from an eight-tonne arrestor unit on a flat-bed truck.

One RAAF member became entangled while he was on the rear of the truck, when the tape reached the end of the reel and pulled the arrestor unit from the vehicle. The unit fell onto the man’s legs on the runway, severing one and severely injuring the other.

READ MORE: Defence first Commonwealth entity to be successfully prosecuted under current work safety laws

Acting magistrate Scott Luxton said the likelihood of an improperly secured arrestor unit colliding with a worker was “not remote, but obvious and foreseeable”. While Defence faced a maximum penalty of $1.5 million, it has been fined $350,000.

“The penalty imposed should serve as a means of encouraging employers to maintain what is described as a constant vigilance with respect to ensuring the safety of their employees and the workplace,” Luxton said in sentencing.

There were measures available to Defence to implement a safe system of work for the job, according to Justin Napier, general manager of Comcare’s Regulatory Operations Group.

“The work should only have been carried out when the arrestor unit was anchored to its foundation, rather than strapped to a truck,” he said.

“The arrestor tapes should also have had visible warning markers to alert workers when the tape was running out. These were reasonably practicable measures that would have minimised the risk of harm to the workers.”

The matter was prosecuted by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

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