Butcher sacked for putting "urgency ahead of safety" was fairly sacked according to Fair Work Australia

28 July 2011

A Tasmanian Woolworths employee, who argued he breached the company's safety policy because he felt under pressure to "get the job done", has lost his unfair dismissal claim.

Fair Work Australia found the employer's policy expressly "forbade placing urgency ahead of safety", and "being busy" did not justify breaching it.

Deputy President Ken Ives heard the worker, a butcher in one of Woolworths Ltd's Hobart stores, was issued a first and final warning in July 2010 for cutting meat on a bandsaw without using the machine's sliding guard and clamp.

In March this year, he injured his thumb, requiring stitches, while again using the bandsaw without the guard and clamp. After a disciplinary meeting three days later, his employment was terminated.

The Tribunal heard the worker had lengthy experience as a butcher, had been with Woolworths for 15 years, and had been trained to use the bandsaw safely. A chart stipulating which cuts required the use of the guard and clamp was positioned next to the bandsaw.

Deputy President Ives found the worker was aware he should have used the guard in the cutting process that injured his thumb, and said that this second breach of an important safety policy warranted his dismissal.

The worker agreed there was valid reason for dismissal, but argued the termination was harsh because no account was taken of him being subjected to a heavy workload due to a shortage of staff. He said at the time of the first incident he had also felt pressured because a customer was waiting and "you do what you've got to do to get the job done".

Woolworths argued it had told him after the first incident that being busy "wasn't an excuse", and said it regularly reinforced its policy that urgency did not "excuse people from departing from safe operating procedures".

Deputy President Ives found the worker was "well aware" he was required to use the guard "no matter how busy he might have considered himself to be".

He considered whether the worker's otherwise good record and the fact that at 60 he was finding it hard to find another job warranted a finding of harshness, but found these factors were outweighed by the worker being experienced, appropriately trained and aware of his obligations.

He also found the worker had been given clear notice eight months previously of the consequences of another breach. "By his actions… [he] became the architect of his own demise," Deputy President Ives said.

"The safety breach of March 2011 was serious… It is not difficult to imagine that injury, but for good fortune, being far worse."

Peter Nicholls v Woolworths Limited T/A Woolworths Limited [2011] FWA 4827 (25 July 2011)