Meat company fined after woman crushed by 700kg hay bales

The Australian branch of a global meat company has been fined after a worker at a NSW site was crushed by 700kg hay bales.

The woman — an admin worker — was struck and trapped under two hay bales that fell off a stack at a JBS Australia Pty Ltd feedlot in Caroona in February 2020.

The hay bales each weighed about 700kg and were in a partially constructed stack about 5m high.

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The woman suffered serious physical injuries, including a number of spinal fractures.

She is now reliant on others for assistance and has not been able to work. Her mental health has also suffered.

Following the incident, SafeWork NSW conducted an investigation.

“It was a well-known risk at the feedlot that partially constructed stacks were unstable and that bales could, and did, fall,” a statement of agreed facts said in a decision handed down in the matter on Wednesday.

At the time of the incident, the woman was testing the moisture levels of two other hay bales.

“The task of moisture testing involved the risk of death or serious injury to a worker from a falling bale or being struck by a FEL,” the facts of the case stated.

The investigation found JBS Australia did not have a written safe work procedure for the task of moisture testing and the training the woman had undertaken differed to other workers who undertook moisture testing.

JBS Australia was found guilty at trial for the offence of failing to comply with its health and safety duty, exposing its workers to a risk of death or injury in breach of the work health and safety act.

Following the incident, JBS Australia reviewed its processes and introduced training manuals for hay testing and stacking and developed training courses for workers.

The Caroona feedlot was also in regular contact with the injured worker and helped care for her family, including cooking meals for her and her family and helping care for the animals on her farm.

The team is also funding the building of a ramp and other modifications at her home to assist with her mobility.

In sentencing the company, District Court Judge Andrew Scotting said the risk to workers was obvious and well known, both to the company and across the industry.

“The steps that the offender could have taken to further minimise the risk were known to it, simple and inexpensive,” Judge Scotting said.

Judge Scotting said an aggravating factor was established due to the worker’s injuries and found a mitigating factor included that JBS Australia had good prospects of rehabilitation.

“The offender expressed regret for (the worker) being injured at work and extended its sympathy to her for the injury she suffered as a result of the incident,” the judge said.

JBS Australia was fined $300,000 for the offence.

It was not the first time the company had been convicted of breaching the work health and safety act.

In 2017, a contractor died at the same feedlot after suffering burns during a grass fire.

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