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SA winery fined $68,000 after employee lost his leg

Posted by Robert O'Neill on Aug 8, 2013 9:26:56 PM
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wineryA South Australian winery has been fined $68,000 due to a workplace safety breach that caused an employee to loose his leg after amputation.

Kahlon Estate's Wines Pty Ltd pleaded guilty in the Industrial Magistrates Court after failing to ensure the safety of one of its employee named, Sukhwant Virk.

The incident happened in April 2011. Mr Virk, who was an Indian national and a temporary Australian resident, was at that time working for the Renmark winery as a cleaner. While working, he came into contact with an unguarded metal auger, a device similar to a drill bit used to push grape skins and juice through a pipe. Mr Virk's left leg got trapped by that device and it severely damaged his leg. Later on, his leg was amputated.

Based on the result of investigations, Industrial Magistrate Stephen Lieschke believed that the winery failed to carry out a risk assessment on the auger. They only told Mr Virk to clean it without standing atop it. Mr Lieschke said that there is an additional factor in the case of the victim being a vulnerable young foreign student from a nation without a similar occupational safety focus. Hence, he was not surprised that despite the warning Mr Virk still stepped up onto the edge of the hopper in order to check the effectiveness of his work. The victim employee showed how efficient he was in his job.

Mr Lieschke reported that the victim’s impact statement outlined his discouraging future prospects in India. Amputees in India are still not widely accepted. There is not a lot of facilities for amputees like him. There is a number of major disadvantages that Mr Virk will face in India.

Mr Virk also fear that he might not be able to find a wife because of his condition. It was even more disappointing to know that he may no longer be able to look after his parents, as their only child.

Mr Lieschke said the dangers posed by the auger were blatantly obvious and clearly foreseeable. He said that the maximum risk included a fatal injury.

"That was a real possibility in this case due to blood loss.”

"There was also a possibility of both legs being trapped and crushed."

According to Mr Lieschke, the winery pleaded poverty, even submitting comprehensive financial documents to attest to its poor financial position. He said that it was not so bad that the winery was unable to pay an expected fine.

"The normally expected level of fine for such a serious offence will be a far greater penalty than would usually be expected for a business of this nature and size.

"I have taken this factor into account as a minor mitigating circumstance."

The original fine for the winery was $85,000 but Mr Lieschke reduced it to $68,000 because the winery pleaded guilty earlier than expected, cooperated with the investigation, and provided support to the victim, Mr Virk.

Aside from the fine, Mr Lieschke further recorded a conviction and ordered the winery's director, Mohinder Kahlon, to undergo immediate workplace safety training. He also ordered the winery to publish a notice in the Australian Wine Industry Journal warning other companies about the dangers of unguarded augers.

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