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Company fined $490,000 after milk tanker tragedy

Peter Stoitse Transport pleaded guilty in the Latrobe Valley County Court today to two charges of failing to provide and maintain a safe working environment.

The company was fined $150,000 for failing to provide a safe system of work and $300,000 for failing to provide information, instruction or training.

It was also fined a further $40,000 after pleading guilty to a single charge of failing to notify WorkSafe of another incident.

In May 2018, truckie Rodney Lunson, 50, died when the milk tanker he was operating rolled onto its side while travelling around a bend on the South Gippsland Highway at Leongatha, Victoria.

An investigation found despite six previous rollovers since 2009, Peter Stoitse Transport had failed to provide its drivers with detailed information, instruction or supervised training in driving milk tankers carrying dynamic loads.

The court also heard that a subsequent inspection of vehicles at the company’s Leongatha depot in July 2018 saw major defect notices issued for four of five prime movers and four of five tanker trailers inspected, requiring them to immediately be taken off the road.

WorkSafe alleged it was reasonably practicable for Peter Stoitse Transport to ensure their drivers were properly trained and to adopt a safe system of work to ensure their milk tankers were maintained in a safe mechanical condition.

In September 2018, the company did not notify WorkSafe following a separate rollover at Echuca that left another driver needing hospital treatment for a serious laceration.

WorkSafe executive director health and safety Narelle Beer said the company had shown a clear disregard for the safety of its drivers.

“Any vehicle used by a worker as part of their job is considered to be a workplace and employers therefore have a duty to ensure they are kept in a condition that is safe and without risks to health,” Dr Beer said.

“Tragically, two workers have been killed in vehicle accidents so far this year and WorkSafe will continue to take strong enforcement action against those duty holders refusing to keep their workers safe on the road.”

Founded over 50 years ago, Peter Stoitse Transport is a family-owned and operated business that now specialises in general freight and bulk liquid transport.

It used to collect 20 per cent of the milk from Victorian farmers, but scaled back operations at the end of last year, transferring the dairy side of the business to McColl’s Transport.

During sentencing the court heard the company had taken “significant steps” to improve its safety standards including selling the milk transport division at a “significant loss”.

Measures also included the installation of electronic systems that remind drivers of incomplete training and having trucks fitted with GPS systems that alert management to factors such as driver speed and when they brake.

“The Stoitse family and Peter Stoitse Transport have not, and will not, move past these events and the lessons we have learned from them,” CEO Mike Munday told Big Rigs in an emailed statement.

“We have accepted responsibility for our omissions and we have learned from our shortcomings in 2018.

“Since then, we have changed the way we operate and the way we do business. Over the past two years, we have invested almost $1m in safety initiatives and programs and we will continue investing in further improvements to ensure we continue to operate safely and efficiently.”

WorkSafe tips

To manage work-related vehicle risks employers should:

  • Ensure appropriate safe systems of work are in place and that these are regularly monitored, reviewed and, if necessary, revised.
  • Ensure regular vehicle inspections, servicing and maintenance are undertaken by suitably competent persons in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • Ensure pre-operations checks are conducted daily on essential components such as brakes, steering, tyres (including pressure), indicators, oil leaks and suspension and have defects rectified by competent persons.
  • Not allow untrained, unlicensed or inexperienced people to operate vehicles.
    Implement a system to ensure people are competent to conduct the work – this should include instructions, information about the work, mentoring and assessment, toolbox training and refresher training even for experienced employees.
  • Establish appropriate rules and standards for safe road use (including speed limits for travel and manoeuvres) taking into account any load factor of a vehicle, including movement of liquid and its effect on the stability of a vehicle, increased breaking distances due to the surge of liquid within a tank and changing environments and conditions.
  • Communicate all safety information to drivers and others (eg load information for those responsible for loading and driving vehicles) to enable them to perform their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health.

Update: An earlier version of this story, with information sourced from WorkSafe Victoria, had incorrectly stated PST was fined $300,000 for failing to provide a safe system of work and $150,000 for failing to provide information, instruction or training. The fines were in fact $300,000 for failing to provide information, instruction or training, and $150,000 for failing to provide a safe system of work. The WorkSafe media release also stated there had been nine previous rollovers at the company since 2009, when in fact there were six, said PST.

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