Transpacific Industries Pty Ltd (Transpacific)
is a large company (it employs in excess of 4,200 people) which
owns a business known as Cleanaway, providing garbage collection
and disposal services in Western Australia. Mr Aaron Meotti
(Mr Meotti) was an employee of Transpacific,
engaged to drive a garbage collection and disposal truck which was
owned by Transpacific.
Being a licensed self-insurer under the Comcare scheme (pursuant
to the Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988),
Transpacific was subject to the now-repealed Commonwealth
Occupational Health and Safety Act 1991.
On 28 February 2011, Mr Meotti was driving the truck at
approximately 70km/h on West Swan Road in Caversham. There was a
stationary van in Mr Meotti's lane which only became visible
when the car in front of Mr Meotti suddenly pulled out to avoid it.
Mr Meotti applied the brakes and the truck skidded 60 metres,
hitting the stationary van and continuing to skid into the opposite
lane. It there hit a wagon travelling in the opposite direction.
The driver of the van was hospitalised and suffers ongoing neck
pain. The driver of the wagon was killed.
It emerged in the subsequent investigation that the automatic
slack adjusters, which compensate for wear in the brake pads, were
not fastened properly. If they had been, the truck would have been
able to brake in time to avoid hitting either the van or the
Not only was this defect not picked up during numerous
mechanical inspections prior to the accident, it was also missed on
three inspections by Transpacific after the accident. The problem
was not fixed until Transpacific were issued with an improvement
notice, requiring it to ensure all brakes on its heavy vehicles
were serviced and operating in accordance with manufacturer's
Comcare commenced a prosecution against Transpacific alleging a
failure to take all reasonably practicable steps to protect the
health and safety of its employees and those members of the public
who may be exposed to risks as a result of its activities. The
first allegation related to the incident itself. The second to
fourth allegations related to the failure to identify the brake
problem on each occasion after the incident.
Transpacific disputed some of the details but, in essence,
admitted breaches as alleged. In effect, it was accepted that there
was not a sufficient process in place for ensuring that the
mechanics in charge of testing the brakes were being instructed
correctly and properly supervised.
Transpacific argued that all four breaches were part of the same
course of conduct such that, in assessing a penalty, they needed to
be treated as one breach. Judge Barker found that the incident
itself should be treated separately to the subsequent failures to
identify the defect, but that those three failures should be
treated as a single course of conduct.
Judge Barker then applied a penalty of $181,500 to each course
of conduct, being a total penalty of $363,000. This represented 75%
of the maximum penalty that could have been applied. Transpacific
was also ordered to pay Comcare's costs.
The Judge stressed the importance of general and specific
deterrence. The breaches were not deliberate but nor were they the
result of momentary inadvertence. They had arisen due to the
failure by Transpacific to have an adequate system in place to
ensure incidents such as this could not occur. Whilst it was said
that the purpose of a penalty in this context was not to provide
retribution or compensation for the victims, the fact that one
person was injured and another killed highlighted the seriousness
of the risk taken when safe systems are not observed.
This case highlights the need for a high level of attention to
detail when designing and implementing safety systems.
Transatlantic did have a system in place to check "the
brakes" of its vehicles on a regular basis – the problem
is that the particular mechanics engaged to check "the
brakes" did not also check the slack adjusters as part of this
inspection, and there were no systems in place to identify such
oversights. This simple (but ongoing) mistake resulted in the death
of one person and the injury of another, as well as being
(presumably) extremely traumatic for Mr Meotti, particularly as
Transpacific attempted, unsuccessfully, to at least partially blame
him for the accident.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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