An Austral tomato farm and its director have been fined $165,000 after a worker fell from a roof at the farm in 2013.

The 60 year old farmhand was attempting to remove plastic covering on the roof of a hot house at Austral Hydroponics’ tomato farm when he lost his balance and fell approximately 2.5 metres, suffering a fractured spine, spinal cord damage and tetraplegia. The worker passed away from health complications while in hospital following the incident.

SafeWork NSW charged Austral Hydroponics Pty Ltd with a breach of section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW) for failing to comply with its duty under section 19(1) of the Act and its Director was charged with a breach of section 32 of the Act for failing to comply with his duty under section 27 of the Act. They were both found guilty in the District Court and fined a total of $165,000.

The Court determined that the risk of falling from the roof was foreseeable and could have been minimised if Austral Hydroponics had completed a risk assessment and put safe work procedures in place. The Court found that the worker did not receive training or assistance to work safely from heights or on the roof and there was inadequate supervision.

The Court also found that the Director should have taken steps to ensure workers did not work on the roof unless a risk assessment had been completed and that measures should have been in place to minimise the risk.

Executive Director of SafeWork NSW, Peter Dunphy said the incident was another example of how safe work systems could have prevented a tragic incident.  

“By failing to provide appropriate equipment, training, instruction and supervision to prevent workers falling from heights, the business committed a significant breach of safety laws,” Mr Dunphy said.

“The incident could easily have been prevented if the business used a safety platform such as a scaffold, elevated work platform or workboxes as well as a fall arrest system.

“Sadly the worker is now deceased.

“This incident and judgement serves as a strong reminder to all businesses in the farming and hydroponics industries of the need for safe work systems and reinforces the duties of business owners and directors to ensure the safety of workers.”

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