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A Defective Woodchipper, a Tragedy, and a Record Fine: The High Stakes of Workplace Safety in NSW

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In an incident that’s nothing short of harrowing, a tree removal company in New South Wales has faced a record-breaking court-imposed fine of over $2 million following the tragic death of a worker.

Setting the scene on a school ground in Lindfield, Sydney’s north, in September 2019, workers from A1 Arbor Tree Services were busy with routine tree removal tasks. As branches were fed into a woodchipper, a devastating accident occurred. A 40-year-old Fijian national was fatally drawn into the equipment, with catastrophic results.

What makes this incident even more heart-wrenching is the series of oversights that led up to it. Court hearings shed light on the company’s lack of a risk assessment for the woodchipping equipment, which was found to be riddled with defects. But the chain of negligence didn’t stop there. The court also unveiled a concerning lack of supervision for workers and, even more alarming, no proper training provided to them on how to safely operate the machinery.

The company pleaded guilty to failing to comply with its safety obligations under the Work Health and Safety Act. Such grave oversights couldn’t escape the eyes of the NSW District Court. Recognising the extreme foreseeable harm to the worker, Judge Wendy Sue Strathdee delivered the verdict – a landmark fine of $2.025 million, the heftiest for a business in NSW’s history.

Work Health and Safety Minister, Sophie Cotsis, echoed the sentiments of many, labelling the incident as “shocking” and “completely avoidable”. Extending her condolences, she emphasised, “The lives of workers must be priority number one. No excuses, no exceptions.” This landmark conviction, she warned, puts businesses across NSW on stern notice.

As we await any potential appeals from A1 Arbor, one thing becomes undeniably clear: workplace safety isn’t just another checkbox. It’s a mandate, the importance of which has been underscored, albeit tragically, by this incident.

When safety guidelines are skirted, and training becomes an afterthought, the results can be catastrophic. At Jameson Law, we firmly believe in the paramount importance of workplace safety and are always here to guide you through any related legal complexities.

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