A barrister for Midfield Meat says the death of a long-time employee at a farm near Dunkeld was a great tragedy but not a criminal offence.
The meat processing giant is on trial in the Warrnambool County Court after pleading not guilty to two charges of failing to provide a safe working environment under the OHS Act.
The charges relate to an incident on December 15, 2017 when 49-year-old Warrnambool Midfield Meat worker Pat Smith was attacked by a large bull stag at Dunkeld farming property 'Wandobah'.
The court heard Mr Smith was working alone in an enclosed space, moving cattle from one yard to another, when he was mauled to death by an agitated stag.
In his opening address on Tuesday, barrister David Neal said the trial was not about compensation for Mr Smith's family but about whether a serious criminal offence occurred because Midfield failed to do what was reasonably practicable.
"It's not about Midfield having caused a death, it's whether the risks presented prior to this accident should have drawn a response," he said.
Mr Neal said Mr Smith had worked at the Dunkeld farm for some eight to 10 years and was "very, very well aware" of the yards and the group of cattle which he had delivered some six months earlier.
He said it appeared Mr Smith made a judgement that it was safe to enter the yard and so he did.
He said Mr Smith was employed at Midfield for 27 years, was brought up on a farm and had extensive knowledge of the industry.
"He was the person that Midfield relied on to exercise his judgement about the measures necessary to that task, to move the mob from yard one to yard two," Mr Neal said.
The barrister said a prosecution expert would tell the jury that the yards were custom-built from an industry template and that "one would have expected that the cattle would simply walk and join their mates in the yard below".
"But obviously something went wrong," he said.
Mr Neal said Wandobah owner Craig Oliver would tell the jury the stag was "crazy" and that he had never seen anything like it in his 18 years working for Midfield.
He said the defence would dispute the prosecution's statement that all stags were dangerous and that it was actually a matter of judgement.
He also urged the jury to consider whether it was reasonably practicable to have two staff members working at all times, particularly when one had the level of expertise of Mr Smith.
Mr Neal said it was not a case where Mr Smith was sent to do work which he was not fully equipped and experienced to do.
"The absolute critical function that you need to do when you're working in cattle yards is to be able to judge the behaviour of the animals that you're dealing with," he said.
"To assess them carefully and to make sure that you've followed the measures that were tried and true for (Mr Smith) for almost all of his life until this day when tragically something went wrong with that animal.
"It went crazy and he lost his life. It's a great tragedy but it's a tragic accident, it's not a criminal offence."
The prosecution gave their opening address on Monday.
Judge Michael O'Connor said Midfield had not been charged with causing Mr Smith's death but failing to address a risk by not providing a safe working environment.
Midfield Meat boss Dean McKenna was called to give evidence shortly before 11.30am on Tuesday. Due to coronavirus restrictions, reporters are not allowed in courtrooms with media viewing the trial through Zoom, however due to the court's inability to record Mr McKenna's evidence and facilitate the livestream simultaneously, the video conference was abandoned.
The Standard has applied for a transcript of evidence.
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