Midfield Meat has been fined $400,000 over the death of a long-time employee at a farm near Dunkeld four years ago.
Pat Smith, 49, was tragically killed by a large stag (steer/bull with one testicle) while working alone in a cattle yard at private farming property 'Wandobah' on December 15, 2017.
He was found unconscious and unresponsive by farm owner Craig Oliver at 9.20am.
Mr Smith had abrasions to his head, face and legs and died as a result of chest injuries.
The stag, which was agitated earlier that morning, was observed in the yard with blood stains on its front legs. It was later euthanised.
Mr Smith's long-time employer Midfield Meat was found guilty of one of two charges of failing to provide a safe working environment during a Warrnambool County Court trial in October.
The charge related to Midfield's failure to have a system to ensure cattle handlers conducted risk assessments before working in enclosed yards and did not work alone.
The prosecution filed a notice of discontinuance in November in relation to the other charge, which the jury was unable to make a decision.
On Tuesday, Midfield Meat was convicted and fined $400,000.
Judge Michael O'Connell said Midfield was required to implement an appropriate system of work that addressed the risk to employees when working with cattle in enclosed yards, and that it failed to do so.
He said one simple measure that "could and should" have been taken was to ensure that a second person was present when managing cattle in enclosed yards.
"Working with cattle, particularly bull/stags, is an inherently dangerous activity, not least because of the animals' unpredictability," he said.
"Irrespective of whether industry guidance was in advisory or mandatory terms, Midfield was under a duty to put in place a system that was known and clearly understood by all field officers, that so far as reasonably practicable eliminated or reduced the risks to field officers working in those conditions."
Judge O'Connell noted that Midfield had since introduced a system where a second person must be present.
"The introduction of that rule was clearly appropriate," he said.
"The extent to which Midfield departed from its statutory duty is, in one respect, illustrated by comparing that rule with what was in existence at the time of Mr Smith's death. The rule as it now stands is unambiguous; the previous position not so."
The judge said that at the time of Mr Smith's death, Midfield Meat general manager Dean McKenna told police that someone else should have been present at the yards.
The court heard Midfield had four prior convictions for safety-related offending against the OH&S Act arising from three separate incidents, and had copped fines totalling $90,000 in 1998, 2010 and 2017.
Judge O'Connell said the convictions were relevant however he was mindful of the fact that corrective action had taken place shortly after Mr Smith's death.
He said the incident was tragic and that Mr Smith's death was "deeply felt at Midfield, as both Mr McKenna's evidence and (Mr Smith's wife Kellie's) victim impact statement made clear."
Referring to her victim impact, the judge said the incident had changed the Smith family's lives forever.
"It is to be hoped, as Ms Smith wishes, that farm safety is prioritised so as to avoid others having to go through what she and her family had to endure," he said.
"Midfield's response to this incident by introducing a hard and fast rule that would, I think, significantly reduce the likelihood of this sort of tragedy occurring again, may provide some comfort."
But the judge said the predominant sentencing purpose must demonstrate to all employers that they have an active and ongoing responsibility to ensure the health and safety of their employees.
"If employers such as Midfield fail to provide and maintain systems which provide a safe working environment, they must expect that they will be heavily financially penalised and with it incur substantial reputational damage," he said.
The fine comes a year after Mr Smith's family filed a lawsuit in Victoria's Supreme Court alleging Midfield Meat failed to create a safe workplace.
Midfield declined to comment.
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