Foster’s receives record fine for fatal safety breaches

Posted by James Ferre on 6th August 2008

Fosters Australia Limited has received Victoria’s biggest ever fine under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 for serious safety failings which led to the death of a worker at its Abbotsford (Melbourne) brewery in April 2006.Imposing a $1.125-million fine and conviction, Judge Jane Campton said a reasonable employer would have foreseen the danger posed by the unguarded machine and taken steps to make it safer, but Fosters chose not to with tragic consequences.

A 58-year-old Wantirna man, Cuu Huynh, was crushed between a handrail and the pneumatically operated door of a machine that takes bottles from pallets before they are filled. He died in hospital six days later.

Safety improvements following the accident at the brewery cost the company $3.9 million.

Judge Campton said Fosters’ failings were at the higher end of the scale because there had been a similar incident on a near-identical machine nearly three-and-a-half-years previously.

Fosters Australia Ltd pleaded guilty to two charges laid under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which provides for a maximum fine of more than $943,000 on each charge. Had they not pleaded guilty the fine would have been $1.5 million.

WorkSafe Victoria’s Executive Director, John Merritt welcomed the fine, but said no punishment could quell the devastation of the man’s family. “They’ve lost a husband and father who worked hard to give them the opportunities he did not have, but he won’t be there to enjoy his children’s success,” he said.

He said the company’s failings were not uncommon. “The problem had been identified, someone had been hurt previously, the solution was known and it wasn’t fixed until after a man had died. The opportunities to make improvements were repeatedly deferred,” Mr Merritt added. “This company is successful and should be setting an example by ensuring the highest safety standards are maintained. With listed companies now in their ‘reporting season’, they have the opportunity to transparently report on their health and safety performance – for better or worse – and to identify what will be done in the future.”

“Being a good corporate citizen is not just about sponsoring charities, grassroots community projects and having good environmental standards. A successful business is a safe business,” Mr Merritt concluded.
Fosters defence counsel said machines at Abbotsford had been made safer and staff had received extra training since the death. Outside court, the General Manager of Foster’s Abbotsford plant, Michael Stoneman, said Foster’s would attempt to do all they can to prevent such tragedies from occurring in the future. “I would just like to say at Foster’s we are shocked and saddened by this terrible tragedy,” Mr Stoneman said. “Our heart goes out to Cuu’s family, they have lost a husband, they have lost a father and our workmates have lost a very respected member of Abbotsford workforce.”