Truck repair shop fined $210k following fatal truck crash

A Victorian truck repair shop has been convicted and fined $210,000 after a petrol tanker it had serviced only a week prior detached from a truck, killing three people.

Heavy Mechanics Pty Ltd was sentenced in the Wodonga Country Court yesterday after being found guilty in June 2021 of a single charge of failing to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, that people other than employees were not exposed to risks to their health and safety.

The workshop had serviced a BP petrol tanker that de-coupled on the Wodonga-Yackandandah Road at Staghorn Flat in August 2014.

The detached tanker veered onto the other side of the road and struck two cars travelling in the opposite direction, killing all three occupants: Lisa Turner, 33, her son Jack, 4, and Peta Cox, 67.

A WorkSafe investigation found the tow-eye coupling that connected the prime mover and trailer, which at the time of the incident had been used for more than three years and 350,000 kilometres, was worn to excess and had failed under load.

The court heard Heavy Mechanics had serviced the truck just days before the incident, including testing the tow-eye coupling, however, this did not involve an accurate visual inspection and there was no testing conducted when the truck was detached from the trailer, which limited the ability to inspect the parts involved.

A jury found it was reasonably practicable for the company to have conducted more accurate testing and inspections, which would have revealed the wear and tear to the coupling.

WorkSafe executive director of health and safety Narelle Beer said the company’s failure to do so had led to a tragic loss of life.

“This is an absolutely horrific incident that not only claimed three lives but left countless others continuing to deal with grief and trauma,” said Beer.

“What this case highlights is the terrible human cost of failing to follow the most basic of workplace safety procedures, including a thorough maintenance program and rigorous inspections of heavy vehicles.”

Following the incident in 2014, BP took its entire national fleet of BP-owned trucks (including approximately 30 in Victoria) off the road as a precaution.

The Herald Sun reported that VicRoads inspectors proceeded to check the fleet for mechanical faults and found “nothing of a significant, unsafe nature”.

BP Australasia said the truck and dog trailer involved in the crash had been routinely serviced – with no faults found.

At yesterday’s hearing, Judge George Georgiou said Heavy Mechanics had shown “no remorse” as it had not pleaded guilty to one count of failing as an employer to ensure other people were not exposed to safety risks.

According to court documents, two of Heavy Mechanics employees serviced the truck and trailer a week before the crash.

The pair marked as complete the requirement to “check and report on the tow couplings (turntable and king pin) split and inspect”.

They performed a tug test and stated the coupling did not reveal anything that required immediate action.

One of them said no wear was sighted on the inspection and the “whole tow hitch looked to be in normal working order”.

However, prosecutor Andrew Palmer said the employees failed to detach the prime mover from the trailer to properly inspect the tow-eye coupling.

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