A transport company has received a large fine following a workplace incident. A worker received head and low back injuries (further details here) when the gate of a freight cage fell in the process of being unloaded from a truck by a forklift. The company was fined $220,000 following the incident which occurred in 2014.

What makes this case interesting is the the company did have a procedure (in the form of a Safe Work Method Statement or SWMS) for the unloading process. The reason why the company was found guilty was that the SWMS was dated 2010 (4 years old) and the workers were found to have not been trained in or aware of its existence.

This brings to light some of the issues we as consultants find often. Companies and managers often are under the false impression that having a procedure provides legal protection when something goes wrong. This however is often incorrect as the procedure itself is only part of the picture.

What is required?

Work health and safety legislation in Australia places duties on businesses in relation to their workers. One of these duties is to ensure the “provision of any information, training, instruction or supervision that is necessary to protect all persons from risks to their health and safety”.  As you can see the provision of a SWMS only really provides the “information”, and not the “training, instruction or supervision” part of this duty.

Additionally, in this situation a SWMS may not have been the best form of information. In situations where mobile plant (forklifts) and vehicles are mixing with pedestrians a Traffic Management Plan (TMP) is recommended. The TMP will include relevant procedural requirements as well as other things like specific zones (e.g. pedestrian / forklift / shared) and exclusion zones for workers when a forklift is operating.


The lesson here is clear. Certainly having a procedure relevant to the risk is required. This may include…

  • Safe Work Procedures
  • Training programs
  • Safe Work Method Statements
  • Job Safety/Hazard Analyses
  • Traffic Management Plans, or anything else

Further to this it is critical that the procedure is trained to staff (e.g. at inductions or toolbox talks), that it is refreshed periodically (of if any changes take place), and that it is also supervised suitably to ensure compliance.

All the best,

Michael Terry