Guilty plea to safety charges

November 30, 2017

Kalafatis Packing faced Shepparton Magistrates’ Court last week on charges about the 2015 incident at its packing shed in Shepparton East.

A packing company will face a maximum fine of $379000 for its role in a scalping accident that tore the ear off a young backpacker.

Kalafatis Packing faced Shepparton Magistrates’ Court last week on charges about the 2015 incident at its packing shed in Shepparton East.

On November 7, 2015, Irish backpacker Annie Dunne was cleaning around a moving conveyor belt in the shed.

Her hair got caught in the moving machinery, which resulted in her losing skin, all her hair and one of her ears.

A Victorian WorkCover Authority investigation found there were several breaches of basic safety at the time of the accident.

Prosecuting barrister for Victorian WorkCover Authority, Jason Gullaci, told the court at the time of the accident there was no requirement to isolate or shut down the conveyor belt during cleaning.

He said interlock guards, which would have added a layer of protection along the conveyor belt, had been removed and not replaced at the time of the accident.

A statement of facts tendered to the court showed that after investigations into the worksite there were a number of basic failures of safety.

This included a lack of a lockout procedure for maintenance and cleaning of equipment, as well as guarding deficiencies along the conveyor belt where the accident took place.

The company was set to face 10 charges, but after negotiations with prosecutors it was lowered to just two — failing to maintain a plant that was safe and without risks and failing to maintain systems of work that were safe and without risk.

Kalafatis Packing intends to plead guilty to these two charges.

Prosecutors pushed for the eventual sentencing to be referred by Magistrate Stella Stuthridge up to the County Court of Victoria.

If it was sent to the county court, Kalafatis Packing could have faced a maximum fine of $1.365million.

Kalafatis Packing lawyer David Schier put forward the proceedings should remain in the magistrates’ court, where the maximum fine is $379000.

‘‘This was the first serious accident at Kalafatis in 60 years, it shocked everyone,’’ Mr Schier said.

He told the court language barriers among the staff could have contributed to the accident.

‘‘The person who is supervising might be Chinese, and the person picking up fruit might be Irish, so there can be difficulties with language,’’ Mr Schier said.

Court documents show that since follow-up visits from WorkSafe, Kalafatis had implemented changes based on the problems safety inspections raised, a point Mr Schier reiterated.

Ms Stuthridge decided the matter should stay in the magistrates’ court, where the community can hear it.

A further plea and sentencing will take place on January 11 at Shepparton Magistrates’ Court, where she will also inspect the worksite to see the improvements first-hand.

A contracting company, T and R Contracting, was fined $60000 for its role in the accident.

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