A major Australian transportation company has faced the Ballarat Magistrates' Court, after a worker sustained severe injuries when their hand was crushed in a conveyor belt.
Toll Transport Pty Ltd pleaded guilty to a rolled-up charge relating to the incident which occurred at the Toll operating depot on Waringa Drive in Mitchell Park.
According to a summary read to court, about 7.15am on July 21, 2021, a conveyor belt became unaligned at the Mitchell Park depot while workers were using it to unload items from a truck.
This would occasionally happen at the warehouse and would require the belt to be manually adjusted.
An employee who was helping with the realignment was positioned at the meeting of two conveyor belts, and when another worker started the machine, it dragged his left hand into the area between the belts.
The man's hand was crushed by the apparatus, which was then switched off, so the worker could be freed from the machine.
One of the man's fingers was "degloved" in the incident, and he required surgery for a prosthetic finger.
Degloving is when the top layers of skin and tissue are ripped from underlying muscle, tissue or bone.
The Victorian Workcover Authority prosecuting lawyer said it was lucky the man didn't lose a second finger in the incident.
After the event, Worksafe issued Toll with notices and the conveyor belt was subsequently replaced and guard rails were implemented.
New warehouse procedures were also initiated, where only authorised workers were allowed to use the belt.
The man returned to work for Toll Transport after recovering from surgery.
Toll Transport's defence lawyer argued for the company not to receive a conviction for the incident, as it would damage the reputation of the company and could affect their dealings with suppliers and contractors.
There were readily available and suitable controls available.- Victorian Workcover Authority prosecuting lawyer
He presented to the court several examples of incidents where other companies had received fines between $20,000 and $35,000 and escaped conviction for similar incidents.
In most cases these were first offences, but Toll Transport had prior workplace incidents in Victoria in 2016 and 2004, and in New South Wales in 2009.
Defence counsel said Toll Transport had shown remorse for the incident by pleading guilty to the charge.
They also said the company had demonstrated good character by having a reconciliation action plan and through donations to initiatives such as the Amy Gillett Foundation, the driver reviver program and the Healthy Heads in Trucks and Sheds Foundation.
The need to guard conveyor belts is known and pinch points and danger areas are notorious in this industry.- Victorian Workcover Authority prosecuting lawyer
The prosecution lawyer said they would seek a conviction because of Toll Transport's prior offences and the level of harm caused to the victim.
"There were readily available and suitable controls available," they said.
"The need to guard conveyor belts is known and pinch points and danger areas are notorious in this industry."
Toll Group is an Australian-based subsidiary of Japan Post Holdings which specialises in transportation, warehousing and logistics, and was formed in Newcastle, New South Wales in 1888.
The organisation employs about 20,000 people across Australia.
Magistrate Hugh Radford adjourned the matter until December 4, 2023, for sentencing.
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