When seatbelt requirements are ignored there are consequences.
The Safe Work Australia’s, work health and safety legislation places significant duties and obligations on the PCBU to ensure the health and safety of workers and others in the workplace. Any breaches of WHS duties can lead to prosecution by the regulator with conviction that can result in significant fines including imprisonment.
Safe Work NSW reported that every year forklifts continue to cause workplace deaths and injuries with overturning or tipping being one of the greatest risks to death by forklift operators driving forklifts and accounting for one in six deaths.
In March 2018, SafeWork NSW launched a week-long forklift safety blitz after three workers were killed, expanding an already grim forklift injury list numbering 1,355 workers between 2014 and 2016, which cost the NSW workers’ compensation system more than $30.5 million.
WorkSafe Queensland revealed that since 2012 an average of 430 workers’ compensation claims had been made for injuries in forklift-related incidents. During the same period 137 incidents involving workers or bystanders being struck or run over by forklifts were recorded. Two were fatal and 88 people were seriously injured.
Workplace accidents come at a cost to business
Workplaces recognise that the level of risk associated with forklift operations results in serious consequences when accidents occur, therefore they develop policies and procedures to manage the risk. Training and supervision play an important part in ensuring that forklift operators are educated and can follow through with the requirements to prevent workplace fatalities. If the forklift operators fail to follow through and are non-compliant, the workplace can be freed of liability.
For example, Sydney Markets have made it compulsory for forklift operators to wear a seat belt, by adopting the SafeWork requirement that SEAT BELTS MUST BE WORN AT ALL TIMES, even when travelling short distances. In addition, compliance notices are issued for non-compliance and forklifts without seatbelts are not be used until a seatbelt is fitted.
In January 2019, workplaces had been put on notice, when media reported that a South Gippsland woman had become the first person in Victoria to be sentenced to jail under Worksafe Victoria’s duty laws for recklessly endangering a worker. Maria Carla Jackson, who was 72, and the owner of the junk yard, was recovering from a stroke when convicted and sentenced to six months’ jail after the death of Robbie Blake.
Does failure to wear a seatbelt warrant termination
In the article, Email Reilly, Moray Agnew, wrote that May 2010, a team leader found a worker was not wearing a seatbelt whilst operating a forklift. The forklift had an interlock switch to the seat belt to prevent operation of the forklift when the seat belt was not worn. However, the safety mechanism had been bypassed, by looping the seatbelt around the back of the seat and fastening it.
Early in June 2010 the worker’s employment was terminated for reasons which included the serious breaches of Company policies and procedures, including site safety requirements. The worker alleged that the termination was a disproportionate reaction to his failure to wear a seatbelt and contention that the termination of his employment was harsh, unjust or unreasonable, and hence unfair
The worker’s defence justified his failure to wear a seatbelt over an extended period of time, as he was mounting and dismounting from the forklift on numerous occasions. Whilst the investigation did not uncover who had been responsible of unlooping the seatbelt and fastening it to the back of the seat, the court ruled that the worker would have been aware that the forklift’s safety system had been bypassed by the improper looping and fastening of the belt around the seat back. The court found this to be a deliberate and gross breach of safety with the potential for serious consequences including a fatality.