The company that runs Gumlu farm Rocky Ponds Produce has been fined after a worker died on the property in March 2019. Photo: Shannen McDonald
The company that runs Gumlu farm Rocky Ponds Produce has been fined after a worker died on the property in March 2019. Photo: Shannen McDonald

Gumlu farming company fined $150K for tragic worker death

A "mum and dad company" that runs a Gumlu farm has been fined $150,000 after a worker tragically died in a tractor incident on their property.

Almost two years to the day since the death, the heart-wrenching details of the incident have been aired in court as Chap Pak Pty Ltd director Desmond Percy Chapman pleaded guilty on behalf of the company to failing to comply with a health and safety duty and exposing an individual to death or serious injury.

Mr Chapman had previously been facing the same charge individually and had pleaded not guilty.

However, Work Health and Safety prosecutor Sarah Cartledge dropped that charge before a sentence was handed down for Mr Chapman's company on Tuesday.

Ms Cartledge told the court 37-year-old farm worker Christopher Robles died from head and chest injuries after a tractor ran over his chest on the farm, Rocky Ponds Produce, on March 18, 2019.

The weather was clear and sunny on the day, and the crew was tasked with planting capsicum seedlings.

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Ms Cartledge said after about 45 minutes some of the seedling trays needed to be restocked so Mr Robles got off the moving tractor and started taking planting trays off the roof of the planting machine.

Then the other crew members heard a cry for help and rushed around to the front of the tractor cabin and found their crewmate under the front left tyre of the vehicle.

The other workers pulled him from beneath the wheel and tried to perform CPR, but Mr Robles tragically died from his injuries.

Ms Cartledge said he had completed an induction, which outlined it was forbidden to get off a moving tractor.

The court heard in the lead-up to his death, Mr Robles had been verbally reprimanded three times for getting off a moving tractor, including from director Mr Chapman.

Ms Cartledge told the court while the company had a policy in place prohibiting workers from getting on and off moving tractors, it was a common occurrence and not enough was done to enforce the rule.

Chap Pak Pty Ltd director Desmond Chapman.
Chap Pak Pty Ltd director Desmond Chapman.

She said there were other control measures that could have been put in place, including implementing effective training, adequate supervision or providing alternative duties for Mr Robles until he showed safe practices.

"It is not deliberate or reckless failure," she said.

"It is a failure to effectively implement administrative control measures."

Barrister John Bremhorst, acting for Chap Pak Pty Ltd, said it was understood Mr Robles, who was a tractor driver, knew the rule because he had been specifically trained, but agreed the company was not forceful enough in enforcing the rule.

Mr Bremhorst described the organisation as a "mum and dad company", saying it was an understatement to say the death affected the entire company and its directors.

"Mr Chapman has felt this incident very personally and very sadly himself," Mr Bremhorst said.

"An event like this is something that leaves an indelible mark on the person.

"A great deal of pride and ethical application is applied by the directors."

Mr Bremhorst told the court the planting crew on that fateful day was a family group and some members of the family remained happily employed at Chap Pak.

A man died at Rocky Ponds Produce in March 2019. Photo: Shannen McDonald
A man died at Rocky Ponds Produce in March 2019. Photo: Shannen McDonald

During sentencing, Magistrate James Morton noted Mr Robles had been employed at the farm for about nine years and there were policies in place to ensure workers' safety.

"Mr Chapman as the director of this company, he was aware the deceased, on a number of occasions, got off the moving tractor," Mr Morton said.

"On each of those occasions Mr Chapman, through the company, as I see it, was not forceful enough, harsh, in delivering his code of safety because had that happened, we may not be here."

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Mr Morton said he understood the death had a flow-on effect through the company.

"I have got no doubt in my mind that you have laid in bed at night and rewound the tapes of this day and wished it did not happen," Mr Morton said.

"You, as the person in charge of this show, you are the one who has got to carry the can.

"You ought to have known this deceased worker, who I have got no doubt you had a close connection with after these years of working, you knew of his mode of operation of his tractor, you should have been more forceful, in hindsight."

Chap Pak Pty Ltd was fined $150,000 and ordered to pay $1601.80 in fees within the next 30 days. No conviction was recorded.

"Nothing is going to bring back this man's life but it could have been avoided," Mr Morton said.