An employment consultancy was fined $50,000 and $4631.65 in costs over workers lost in a remote area north-east of Kalgoorlie.
The company pleaded guilty to failing to provide and maintain a safe work environment and was fined in the Kalgoorlie Magistrates Court on Wednesday.
The company was contracted to consult with disadvantaged job seekers through their Kalgoorlie office. In December 2009, two of the company’s area employment consultants were told to conduct an “outreach visit” to the remote community of Tjuntjuntjara, around 600km north-east of Kalgoorie in the Great Victoria Desert.
The two consultants left at around 6am. The journey was estimated to take nine to ten hours on a road with no signs that was a narrow track in some places. The female consultants were not given any map, GPS or any other navigational aid and were lost because of this. They were not given training or instruction on travelling to remote areas. In addition, the satellite phone provided to them did not work.
After 23 hours of driving, the consultants saw a public telephone outside the Ilkulka roadhouse. One of the workers called on her husband, who alerted the Area Manager regarding the two workers’ situation.
The Area Manager attempted to activate the EPIRB to locate the consultants but failed. Soon after, the husband of one of the consultants arrived at the office with his wife on the mobile phone, and she was instructed to push the “I’m OK” button to activate the EPIRB.
The roadhouse’s caretaker made temporary repairs to their vehicle and gave some tips to the two consultants on four wheel driving. He also loaned them his GPS and satellite phone. The two arrived at Tjuntjuntjara in the middle of the afternoon.
WorkSafe WA Commissioner Lex McCulloch said the incident was a shocking example of an employer failing to ensure a safe work environment for workers.
“These two employees were not provided with anywhere near the amount of training, instruction and functioning equipment necessary for ensuring safety when travelling in remote locations,” said Mr McCulloch.
“For an organisation that regularly sends employees into remote areas, this level of neglect really is inexcusable.
“We all know WA is a vast state, and there have been many tragic examples of people losing their lives in remote locations because they have set out largely unprepared.
“Since this incident, the employer has implemented a range of measures to address the hazards of outreach visits, including risk assessments, checklists for mechanical checks, driver safety and equipment, emergency response procedures and training in four wheel driving and operating communications equipment.
“However, these procedures should have been in place all along, and it was indeed fortunate that no real harm came to these two employees. There could have been a very different outcome.
“This case should send a loud and clear message to any organisation that operates in remote areas that it is absolutely crucial to provide employees with adequate training and instruction and properly maintained and functioning equipment on every trip they undertake.
“As a minimum, WA’s workplace safety laws require isolated employees to be provided with a means of communication in case of emergency and a procedure for regular contact.
“WorkSafe’s Guidance Note on Working Alone provides information on how to comply with the laws, and every workplace that has workers who travel to remote locations should keep a copy of this guidance material in the workplace.”
Further information on working in remote areas can be accessed through the WorkSafe WA website.