Teen killed driving forklift did not have licence

CHRIS BARRETT
October 17, 2009

A teenager killed in a horrific industrial accident at a meatworks in Brisbane's west last week did not have a permit to operate the forklift he died driving.

Christopher Fenton, 18, was crushed to death by the vehicle on October 5 during his night shift at Dinmore-based Food Partners, the meat-processing department at the huge JBS Swift abattoir.

The meatworks is the largest in the southern hemisphere, with a capacity to process 3400 head of beef a day.

Garry Morris, Mr Fenton's father, said his son was not qualified to operate a forklift.

He had been working at Food Partners for only two months.

It is understood the the key to the forklift had been left in the ignition, a practice that Swift employees have told brisbanetimes.com.au is widespread at the abattoir and its adjoining plants. The company denies this claim.

Swift management sent a memo to all employees on the day after the accident demanding those with forklift tickets produce their training credentials at work.

Mr Morris said he believed his son had been given an assignment on the forklift despite his lack of qualifications. However, a conflicting report from employees suggests Mr Fenton may have been skylarking when the accident occurred.

brisbanetimes.com.au was told he drove down a ramp too fast and when the forklift struck an uneven surface he fell out. The forklift's cage then landed on him causing fatal crushing injuries.

The aftermath of the tragic incident has been shrouded in silence, with even Mr Fenton's father locked out of information about his son's death almost a fortnight ago.

"We have been told nothing," Mr Morris said.

"The police turned up at our house at 1.25 in the morning to tell us that Chris was dead. They said `he's had an accident at Swift and he's dead'. Then nothing. There's been two or three phone calls from police but only because I've rung them first."

He said he had not been contacted by Swift management or the John Tonge Centre, where the autopsy on his son was completed.

Forensic police attended the scene at the time of the incident but an investigation is now in the hands of Workplace Health and Safety. WHS has refused to comment on the matter.

When asked whether the keys to the forklift were left in the ignition John Berry, the Swift director of corporate affairs, said: "I know nothing to that effect."

"I have no knowledge about that and any of those speculations are unfounded," he said.

Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union secretary Brian Crawford said Mr Fenton was not a union member but he was eagerly anticipating the WHS findings.

"We're waiting on what the outcome of the investigation is," he said. "Obviously we'd want to see that proper procedures are in place."

Under the Workplace Health and Safety Regulation 2008 forklift truck operators must hold a certificate in competency, and WHS safety guidelines demand that operators "remove the ignition/starter switch key when you leave the forklift truck".