Scott’s Refrigerated Logistics fined $800,000 over line haul driver’s death

An employer has been fined $800,000 for WHS breaches that contributed to the death of a line haul truck driver.

Scott’s Refrigerated Logistics Pty Ltd (SRL) line haul driver Darren Bowden was killed in July 2021, when he was hit by a truck on a section of the Macleay Valley Way in Clybucca, NSW, while swapping trailers with another SRL driver.

SRL required workers operating trucks to park at designated locations across Australia for changeovers and the Clybucca site was one of these. It was along a stretch of road next to an out-of-service BP service station, with a posted speed limit of 100 kilometres per hour.

The court heard that changeovers at this site were being performed in poor lighting conditions without hi-vis vests; with the designated work site migrating onto a dangerous stretch of road.

SRL had designated the BP service station as the Clybucca changeover site (CCS), but when the service station closed in 2016, drivers began swapping trailers on the shoulder of the adjacent road.

According to court documents, SRL was aware of the practice but continued to direct workers to conduct changeovers there.

NSW District Court Judge Wendy Strathdee heard that about 140 changeovers were conducted on this stretch of road each week – and that the area was poorly lit, in poor condition and lacked space, so some trucks needed to partially park on the road.

“The evidence establishes that to undertake the changeover task, due to the lack of space, the drivers were effectively standing on the active lane of the road,” Strathdee said.

Bowden was struck by a truck being driven by a co-worker, who had previously complained that the Clybucca changeover site was crowded and unsafe, and was travelling past there to an alternative location for a changeover when the incident occurred.

After SafeWork NSW charged SRL with breaching the WHS Act, the company was put into external administration. The liquidators did not appear at the trial. The case proceeded on the basis that the PCBU (person conducting a business or undertaking) had entered a plea of not guilty.

SRL was put into external administration on February 27, 2023, with a liquidator appointed April 3, 2023.

The company, which transported temperature-controlled freight across Australia, was one of the country’s largest trucking fleets.

Judge Strathdee accepted SafeWork’s submission that SRL’s omissions were a “substantial or significant cause” of workers being exposed to the risk of serious injury or death from being struck by oncoming vehicles while performing changeovers at the site.

“Given the area where the incident occurred was near oncoming traffic in a 100km speed zone, and the task workers were required to undertake involved working either on the road or very close to the road, it is reasonably foreseeable that workers may be exposed to the risk of being struck by a moving vehicle while conducting a changeover at the CCS,” she said.

“This is especially so in circumstances where there was no designated location or facilities for the task to be undertaken in this area, or procedure as to how to assess a safe site.”

SafeWork had alleged that SRL should have performed a risk assessment at the site that took into account the speed, volume and proximity of traffic at the location; lighting and visibility; the condition of the road surface; and the location’s size.

The regulator found the PCBU should have enforced a safe system of work for the changeover, provided workers with adequate information, training and instruction on the risk of being struck during changeovers, and ensured they wore adequate high-visibility clothing at changeover locations.

In interviews with SafeWork NSW Inspectors, other workers reported safety concerns about the CCS that included:

  • The condition of the road was poor; there were potholes, it was rough, and the shoulders were soft.
  • There was little very room at the site to conduct a changeover.
  • On the end of the CCS furthest away from the out-of-service BP station, the drivers would need to partially park on the sealed bitumen and partially on the dirt on the side of the road.
  • During the changeover period, the site was extremely busy due to the number of trucks conducting changeovers in the area.
  • Workers had to walk onto the road when entering and exiting their trucks as there was no space to walk on the shoulder when the truck was parked.

The Judge heard that while SRL policies required line haul drivers to be provided with and wear approved high-visibility vests, some workers were not provided with these vests and others complied with the rule “to varying degrees”.

Bowden was not wearing a high-visibility vest or shirt when he was struck, she heard.

Judge Strathdee found SafeWork’s allegations were proven beyond reasonable doubt.

In sentencing SRL, she said the relevant risk was “glaringly” foreseeable and known to SRL, having been raised by workers who used the CCS.

“The risk of being struck by mobile plant or vehicular traffic on the road is obvious and should and could have been readily anticipated by SRL,” she said. “This was a fundamental part of SRL’s business operations and there were many movements of heavy vehicles at the CCS.”

SRL was convicted and ordered it to pay costs, in addition to an $800,000 fine.

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