A Shepparton fruit-packing company has been fined $72000 for its role in a scalping accident that tore off the scalp and an ear of a young Irish backpacker.
Kalafatis Packing faced Shepparton Magistrates’ Court last Thursday on charges relating to the 2015 incident at its Shepparton East packing shed.
Irish backpacker Annie Dunne, 22, was cleaning underneath a pear conveyor belt in the shed at the time of the incident, when her hair became tangled.
Ms Dunne lost all her hair and attached skin from above her eyelids to the back of her neck, plus one of her ears.
Following the ruling, WorkSafe said it was reviewing the court’s decision.
‘‘Every worker has the right to expect that their employer does everything possible to protect their health and safety,’’ a statement read.
‘‘It was appalling that workers were expected to clean machinery while it was still in operation. The victim was left with horrific, long-lasting injuries because safe systems of work were not in place.’’
Before last week’s ruling, Magistrate Stella Stuthridge along with the company’s managing director Jimmy Kalafatis, his defence team, WorkSafe employees and the prosecution visited the place of the incident to see what changes had been made since the accident on November 7, 2015.
‘‘WorkSafe gave us a direction to make that area safe and then they would come back and inspect the site,’’ Mr Kalafatis said during the site visit.
‘‘After we complied and got the factory operating again we continued being consulted on, we had a look at all our safety mechanisms across our business.’’
Mr Kalafatis said the company had invested more than $200000 in infrastructure since the incident, including a yellow fencing barrier that covered the conveyor belt in question.
When back in the courtroom, Victorian WorkSafe Authority’s prosecuting barrister Jason Gullaci cross-examined Mr Kalafatis.
Mr Kalafatis told the court no other shed in all of the Goulburn Valley would compare to his, after the safety measures he had implemented.
‘‘I’ve never seen a piece of equipment (the conveyor belt) protected so much,’’ he told the court.
‘‘The workforce has progressively evolved. We always had permanent local employees, but over the years, now the majority are seasonal.
‘‘So we’ve had to modify our equipment to cater for the workforce we have now.
‘‘We’ve never had an incident like this before; to say everyone was devastated would be an understatement.
‘‘Every meeting we have now, front and centre are OH&S issues — first we’ve got to be safe and then we do business.’’
Late on the night of the incident, Mr Kalafatis visited Ms Dunne in hospital before arranging to have her family flown to Australia.
The first of Mr Kalafatis’ two defence lawyers, Simon Gillespie-Jones, admitted the incident was avoidable, but said Kalafatis Packing had ‘‘gone over and above’’ in making the workplace safer.
‘‘Those are the factors that ought to be taken into account and given the largest consideration,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s (the workplace incident) isolated and has been taken extraordinarily seriously.’’
Mr Gullaci said the difference to the packing shed compared with the site back in 2015 was stark.
‘‘You don’t need architects, you (Mr Kalafatis) used the word commonsense, that fencing was a practical solution that could’ve existed on the day,’’ he said.
‘‘None of those measures were put in place ... (that is) the gravity of the risk that existed.’’
Defence lawyers for Mr Kalafatis pleaded guilty to two charges, including failing to maintain a plant that was safe and without risks, as well as failing to maintain systems of work that were safe and without risk.
The maximum fine Ms Stuthridge could have imposed on the fruit packing company was $758000.
She fined it $35000 for the first charge, $15000 for the second and $22000 for the cost of the WorkCover investigation — totalling $72000.
‘‘The company and his family have taken this so seriously that they’ve raised the factory to a standard above the industry norm,’’ Ms Stuthridge said.
‘‘The changes were expensive ... they responded in an exemplary manner ... they pleaded guilty.’’
Outside court, defence lawyer David Schier said Mr Kalafatis thought it was a fair result.
‘‘It not only traumatised the company, but ensured they embarked upon a significant remodelling program for the factory,’’ he said.
‘‘The company were very good corporate citizens in responding to this accident ... (Ms Stuthridge) took into account what the company has done.’’