A Melbourne waste recycling company has been convicted and fined $450,000 over the death of an employee who was struck by the bucket of a 20-tonne front end loader.

Resource Recovery Victoria Pty Ltd (RRV) pleaded guilty in the County Court of Victoria on March 31 to two offences under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 for failing to provide a safe system of work and failing to provide information, instruction or training.

The court heard that RRV operated a waste recycling depot in Braeside in which dump trucks, heavy machinery, smaller vehicles and staff on foot all worked in close proximity to each other.

On October 4, 2013, an employee was driving a small sweeper vehicle in an open air shed used for dumping and sorting waste materials. 

Another employee was also in the shed, operating a 20-tonne Hitachi front end loader to move dirt and bricks up a small ramp into a hopper.

The court heard that after the front end loader emptied a load of material into the hopper, the operator reversed the machine back down the ramp and lowered its bucket to about one metre above ground level. 

Just after the machine began to move forward, the operator felt a bump on the bucket. When he reversed, he saw his colleague slumped in the sweeper vehicle with fatal injuries.

The court was told that the depot was a busy workplace with trucks dumping materials, heavy excavators and front end loaders sorting and clearing materials, and staff on foot all working in close proximity to each other.

While new employees were given safety pamphlets to read, the court heard there was no written induction at the site and training was informal and “on the job”.

The court was also told that:

  • There were no documented procedures for traffic management at the time of the incident. Instead, employees relied on common sense.
  • There were no signs or lines in the yard area to determine where trucks, frontend loaders or the company’s street sweepers could or couldn’t go, nor were there alarms, lights or barriers.
  • Training in relation to all the machines used in the depot was verbal.
  • There had been a number of injuries and near misses involving employees and machines over recent years that had not been reported.

Executive Director of Health and Safety, Len Neist, said the company had failed in its responsibilities to keep workers safe.

“A comprehensive – and communicated – traffic management plan is critical in workplaces where employees are required to work in close proximity to heavy machinery and vehicles. Simply hoping workers will stay away from heavy machinery is just not good enough,” Mr Neist said.

“All employers must ensure workers are properly inducted to their worksite and competently trained on how to use the equipment they’re operating. Expecting workers to just learn on the job is fraught with peril.

The tragic circumstances of this matter and the failings of RRV to keep its workers safe should serve as a reminder to all employers to put the upmost importance on workplace safety.”

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