Warrnambool City Council is pleading guilty to a WorkSafe charge after the collapse of a concrete buyers walkway at the saleyards two-and-a-half years ago.
The plea has been entered and is listed for hearing in the Warrnambool Magistrates Court on July 14.
The council's chief executive officer Andrew Mason said that at the time of the incident, the council responded quickly to restore a safe work environment at the saleyards.
"We do recognise the responsibility we have to ensure the safety of our facilities and we're continually seeking to improve our safety systems," Mr Mason said.
A 12-month investigation by The Standard has revealed the saleyards operated for two years despite WorkSafe reporting parts of the facility were "structurally unsound and required replacement".
Documents obtained from Warrnambool City Council under Freedom Of Information have revealed employees were unable to show the yards were "fit for ongoing use" after the concrete walkway collapsed during a sale on Wednesday, October 22, 2020.
WorkSafe slapped four improvement notices on the council after the collapse, which witnesses described as "like an earthquake".
None of the 20 people on the walkway were injured.
It is understood WorkSafe had warned the council in 2015-16 about structures at the South West Victoria Livestock Exchange, including the concrete public walkways and the agents' catwalks.
WorkSafe started an investigation in December 2020 following the collapse and the council was charged with a single breach of section 23(1) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act for failing to ensure, as far as was reasonably practicable, that persons other than employees were not exposed to risks to their health and safety.
The maximum penalty for the offence is 9000 penalty units. At the time of the collapse a penalty unit was $165.22 which makes the maximum penalty $1,486,980.
The WorkSafe improvement notices related to the eight concrete buyers platforms which were described by a WorkSafe officer as "structurally unsound and required replacement".
Inquiries were made by a WorkSafe officer about the structural integrity of all structures and plant at the saleyards but employees were unable to provide any verification or documentation that they were structurally sound or fit for ongoing use.
The officer reported during an inspection of the workplace "a number of issues related to individual structures".
"This included - but was not limited to - design of support structures for auctioneers platforms, worn and damaged open railings and receival ramps - modifications and walkways."
Roof structures over the buyers platforms were "also in a highly corroded state and susceptible to failure".
Another notice related to the inadequate emergency response to the buyers walkway collapse that allowed people to remain in the immediate area.
The officer was advised there was an emergency plan at the saleyards but it was "some time" since it had been reviewed.
The other notice related to livestock being loaded and unloaded by employees who climbed up the side of stock crates - a banned practice.
In November last year, councillors voted 4-3 after a highly-charged public debate to close the yards which ceased operations early after agents abandoned the facility in December.
The documents obtained under FoI by The Standard confirmed officers approved almost $300,000 in works after the collapse of the concrete walkway.
The paperwork shows $294,181 was spent on two tenders by council officers to demolish the existing walkways and replace them, including $53,920 on demolishing and removing the walkways and rooves.
Another $240,261 was spent constructing and installing new buyers walkways.
Both those tenders excluded GST.
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