A national meat manufacturer has been fined after an employee’s spine was fractured when she was crushed by 700kg hay bales in rural NSW.
JBS Australia, the country’s largest manufacturer of ham and other meats, was found guilty at trial of failing to comply with safety standards.
Agreed facts tendered to court reveal that the admin employee was struck by two falling bales at a “feedlot” in Caroona, about 380km northwest of Sydney, in February 2020.
District Court Judge Andrew Scotting told the court that the employee suffered “ongoing pain and disability” as a result of the incident.
“She requires care and is now reliant on others for assistance (and) has not been able to return to work” Justice Scotting said.
“She misses the interaction with her co-workers and fulfilment that her job gave her. Her mental health has suffered.”
The bales, each weighing about 700kg, had been in a partially constructed stack six bales high when they fell, causing multiple spinal fractures.
At the time, the employee had been conducting moisture testing with another staff member who was using a front-end loader to move the hay.
The court was told the operator did not communicate that the affected employee was in the area before she was trapped underneath the stack.
Justice Scotting said the risks posed by moisture testing were well known and the general practise at the manufacturer was “deficient”.
“The offender had a substantial safety system in place, but it failed to identify moisture testing as a discrete task,” he said.
“The offender had a blind spot in its system which had developed over a lengthy period of time.
“The offender failed to be proactive in improving its systems by implementing measures that would go closer to eliminating the risk.”
JBS Australia is operated under the Brazil-based holding company JBS S.A., with the northeast NSW site purchased sometime in 2007.
The court was told the feedlot had been integrated in JBS’s Australian operations, which employed about 6830 workers across the country.
The primary purpose of the feedlot, which employs about 43 people, was to feed and water the 6000 cattle that passed through monthly.
At the time of the incident, Justice Scotting said the feedlot did not have in place written safe work procedure (SWP) for moisture testing.
“Within one month of the incident, the offender introduced the Hay Testing Training Manual and the Hay Stacking Manual,” he said.
“The offender also developed the training courses to be used in training workers on the content of the post-incident SWPs.
“The offender expressed regret and extended its sympathy to (the employee) for the injury she suffered as a result of the incident.”
The court was told the feedlot had been in daily contact with the employee’s family and had provided her food and care for her animals.
Quad bikes were banned at feedlots and a trial of proximity detectors was implemented in 2023. A robotics trial was also undertaken.
JBS Australia was ordered to pay a fine of $300,000 as well as the prosecutor’s costs, which are to be agreed at a later date.
The court was told the meat manufacturer had previously pleaded guilty to an offence relating to the death of a contractor in 2017.
The death resulted from a grass fire started by the use of a tractor to mow the grass. A fine of $300,000 was imposed at the time.
JBS has been contacted from comment.