The Supreme Court this week dismissed an appeal by Patrick Stevedoring Pty Ltd against its conviction and $180,000 fine for workplace health and safety breaches.
The sentence was imposed in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court in January in what was the first discrimination conviction under Section 76 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004.
The sections makes it an offence to dismiss, injure or alter a worker’s position to his or her detriment, or threaten to do so, just because the worker has raised a safety concern or exercised their power as an elected health and safety representative.
WorkSafe’s prosecution related to a series of incidents in 2007 in which an experienced stevedore, who was also an elected health and safety representative, was given warning letters, stood down, and threatened with dismissal after raising concerns about a method for lifting loads of steel in and out of vessels.
Patrick Stevedoring pleaded not guilty to all three charges.
The worker’s concerns related to the safety of a ‘basket lifting’ technique for lifting steel loads, which a client of Patrick Stevedoring wanted to introduce. At the time, company procedure required the use of a different technique, called ‘double wrapping’, to lift steel loads.
The worker raised concerns about the safety of the basket lifting technique on three occasions in 2007, and objected to using the basket lift.
In a meeting between the worker and a Patrick Stevedoring manager, the manager threatened to dismiss the worker and stood him down for a week.
The worker later received a disciplinary letter with a number of complaints against him, including that he had refused to indicate whether he would follow instructions to use the basket-lift to load cargo.
In her sentencing remarks, Magistrate Rosemary Carlin said “serious instances of discriminating behaviour” had occurred, and that there was a need to deter other employers from discriminating against their workers.
WorkSafe Victoria publishes guidance called Working Safely on the Waterfront which can be found online at www.worksafe.vic.gov.au.