Are backpackers really safe in Australia?

By Our Reporter
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In a recent court report, serious injuries suffered by UK backpackers working on Bundaberg fields owned by the world’s largest macadamia grower were highlighted. The labourers were hurt in 2018 while working as casuals on Saratoga Holdings Pty Ltd’s plantations. A manager was operating a tractor with a skirting attachment, which had five enormous blades on a metal arm roughly 2.3m long, in the most serious event on 27 August 2018. Liam Downer of the United Kingdom was entrusted with using an ATV to inspect the position of the trees’ irrigation lines. Mr Downer exited a row shortly before 3 p.m. and turned onto the headland, colliding with the skirter. His left arm came into touch with the skirter’s revolving blades, resulting in an incomplete amputation of his left forearm.

According to a spokeswoman for the Office of Industrial Relations, an inquiry revealed that the corporation had no apparent exclusion zone around the skirter. ‘Machinery in use’ warnings were not posted at all work entrances, and the worker did not watch the instructional DVD on quad bikes or complete the questionnaire while being inducted by the company.

In another similar incident, Yacob Dams, a UK worker, had been assisting a technical officer with changing woodchipper blades three weeks before. Mr Dams was invited to take over after the technical officer demonstrated how to change the blades. He successfully changed a blade while the technical officer disappeared for a brief moment. Mr Dams then proceeded to replace the next blade. With his left hand, he tried to slow the disc’s rotation, but momentum locked his fingers between the metal case and the disc carrying the cutting blades.

The company’s wood chipper operating method did not contain a procedure for changing the blades, according to the study. Using a torque wrench to tighten the nuts was one method for changing the blades. Mr Dams was not given any formal instruction in changing the blades, nor was he advised to use a torque wrench to change the blades. In fact, the incident was known to the corporation, but it was not reported.

The Outcome

In Bundaberg Magistrates Court on 5 January, Saratoga Holdings was found guilty and fined a total of $410,000 for four offences. According to an OIR spokesman, Magistrate Trinity McGarvie considered the defendant’s guilty pleas as well as the company’s actions, which included hiring a new health and safety manager to evaluate its procedures. She did point out, however, that the defendant was fined $35,000 in 2014 for an event in which a worker was using an auger without being instructed on how to do so, and his hand was amputated as a result. Eventually, Saratoga Holdings pleaded guilty to the four violations in December.


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