Thursday 22 August 2019

Australian firm faces €244,000 fine for conveyor belt injury to Irish woman

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Denise Calnan

Denise Calnan

An Australian packing company involved in an horrific machine accident in which a young Irish backpacker was seriously injured could face a fine of €244,000.

The Kalafatis Packing firm appeared in Shepparton Magistrates' Court, Victoria, on Wednesday on charges in relation to the 2015 incident at its packing shed in Shepparton East.

According to the 'Shepparton News', the company could face a maximum fine of AUS$379,000 (€244,000).

Tipperary native Annie Dunne suffered extensive injuries when her hair got caught in a mechanical conveyor belt at a packing shed in Shepparton Victoria in November, 2015.

Kalafatis Packing is the firm that runs the farm.

The company initially faced 10 charges, but these have been reduced to two.

They intend to plead guilty to these two charges.

It is understood Ms Dunne, who is in her 20s and originally from Kilkeary outside Nenagh, Co Tipperary, was working to fulfil the 89 days of regional work required to extend her working holiday visa for a second year at the time.

'The Age' newspaper in Australia reported at the time that Ms Dunne was cleaning the conveyor belt used to deliver pears for distribution when her hair became entangled in a rotating drive shaft.

She suffered extensive damage to her scalp and one of her ears in the incident.

Kalafatis Packing lawyer David Schiers told the court yesterday that the accident "shocked everyone".

"This was the first serious accident at Kalafatis in 60 years, it shocked everyone," Mr Schiers said. He also said language barriers among the staff could have contributed to the accident.

"The person who is supervising might be Chinese, and the person picking up fruit might be Irish, so there can be difficulties with language," he said.

The court heard that at the time of the accident there was no requirement to isolate or shut down the conveyor belt during cleaning.

It also heard that interlock guards, which would have added a layer of protection along the conveyor belt, had been removed and not replaced at the time of the accident.

Failures

Documents shown to the court showed that after investigations into the worksite there were a number of basic failures of safety.

This included a lack of a lockout procedure for maintenance and cleaning of equipment, as well as guarding deficiencies along the conveyor belt where the accident took place.

Since follow-up visits from WorkSafe, Kalafatis had implemented changes based on the problems safety inspections raised, Mr Schiers told the court.

A further plea and sentencing will take place on January 11 at Shepparton Magistrates' Court, and the work-site will be inspected to see the improvements first-hand.

The labour hire firm - T&R Contracting Shepparton Pty Ltd - pleaded guilty in January of this year at Shepparton Magistrates' Court to failing to provide a safe working environment as it had not provided instruction and training to the young backpacker.

It was fined AUS$60,000 (€42,000) and had to pay AUS$8,000 (€5,150) in legal costs.

Irish Independent

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