Prosecution highlights safety language barrier

27 May 2010

Companies employing workers with limited English must make sure workers are trained and able to do their job safely, WorkSafe Victoria said today. The AMIEU would also remind employers that section 22(1)(c) of the Act states that the employer must provide OHS information in such other languages as are appropriate

The WorkSafe comments come after WorkSafe prosecuted a Murrayville-based potato farm for failing to ensure a worker with limited English received clear instruction and training before operating a telehandler*.

Mondello Farms Pty Ltd was convicted and fined $40,000 in the Mildura Magistrates’ Court today, after pleading guilty to one charge under section 21(1)&(2)(e) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 for failing to provide instruction, information, training and supervision to its workers.

“All employees, including those whose first language is not English, need information and training to understand the risks involved in their work and enable them to do their job safely,” WorkSafe Victoria’s Acting Executive Director for Health and Safety Stan Krpan said.

“If a worker has limited English, employers may need to make an extra effort to ensure the worker is clear on the risks. This may simply involve taking a little extra time or involving a translator – which may be another worker.

“Employers and supervisors also need to be aware that the language barrier may lead to a power inbalance in the workplace - workers with limited English may be less likely to question health and safety practices or speak up if they’re unsure,” he said.

The incident occurred in 2008 when a Mondello employee, an Indian national on a study visa, lost control of the telehandler and hit a truck driver – an employee of a company contracted to transport potatoes.

The Mildura Magistrates’ Court heard that the Mondello worker was moving the unloaded telehandler to a different farm site after watching a five minute demonstration on how to operate it.  The worker had never previously operated a telehandler and the demonstration was provided by another employee who had no formal qualifications or training to operate a telehandler, or instruct others how to use it.

The Mondello worker lost control of the telehandler while attempting a turn, hitting the truck driver, who sustained several broken bones in his right foot, lacerations to his elbow and head, and was required to stay in hospital for a week.

“This is someone with limited English, who been with the company for two weeks, and had never operated a telehandler before,” Mr Krpan said.

“No attempt was made to arrange for another employee to interpret the instructions on how to operate the telehandler. His only instruction on how to use this piece of machinery, which weighed over three and a half tonnes, was from someone who wasn’t even licensed to use it.

“This is a reminder for employers about their legal duties to ensure workers are provided with information, instruction, training or supervision which enables them to perform their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health,” he said.

*A telehandler is similar to a forklift or a tractor, but has a boom attached.