A Queensland farmer has been fined $65,000 after a backpacker died from heatstroke while working on a fruit farm in the Burdekin area in the North.
In November of 2017, backpacker Olivier Max Caramin from Belgium died from heat stroke while working on a watermelon farm belonging to a farmer that employed more than 200 staff.
The farmer in question, Bradford Clark Rosten, pleaded guilty to charges handed down by the Townsville Magistrate Court that found Mr Rosten in violation of the state’s Work Health and Safety Act 2011 after he failed to meet the health and safety obligations for his employees.
Mr Rosten was fined $65,000 for the violations of Queensland’s Work Health and Safety Act, and instructed to pay $1,600 in legal fees; no criminal conviction was handed to the defendant.
Reports say that Mr Caramin’s death came after working on the watermelon farm for just one week. According to the ABC, “he became unwell, telling co-workers he could not go on.”
Handing down the verdict, Magistrate Ross Mack said that the farmer had failed to inform staff and workers of the symptoms related to heat stroke, adding that the victim displayed clear signs of a heat-related illness.
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland launched an investigation into the death, who reported a number of shortfalls in training staff as to the dangers of hydration, nutrition and the symptoms of heat stroke.
“Shelter from the sun had not been considered, and no planning had been conducted to determine whether picking could occur outside of the hottest part of the day, with the court finding complacency about the dangers of the job contributed to the man’s death,” writes the ABC.
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Fiona O’Sullivan, Manager of agriculture for Workplace Health and Safety Queensland has issued a statement saying the verdict should act as a reminder for farmers to meet their obligations under the Act.
“The workplace health and safety legislation has some very specific requirements for people who operate businesses and supply labour,” O’Sullivan said, adding that “they have to cover off on all the risks that a worker is likely to experience.”
“In summer, in Queensland, heat stress is a really high-risk issue,” she said, reminding industries in Queensland that the department will be conducting audits to ensure employers are meeting their obligations when it comes to workplace health and safety.
“With any business, we have to manage risks. Working in the heat of the day, if it can be avoided, should be avoided,” O’Sullivan said. She added that employers should be “ensuring they [employees] drink water, they have adequate shade and they know what to do in the case of an emergency, so they can keep themselves safe.”
The ABC’s report also quotes Richard Shannon, Growcom’s manager of policy and advocacy. Growcom is the representative body for major farms in Queensland, who is urging farmers to contact the Office of Industrial Relations to ensure they are operating in-line with workplace health and safety laws.
Mr Shannon says the untimely death of a backpacker from heat stroke should be taken as a warning sign for the risks involved with non-compliance in the context of workplace health and safety legislation.
“Everyone in the industry has been aware of this case,” he said. “It was a shocking death to have occurred and has given us cause to reflect on how we induct casual workers.”
“It doesn’t help in attracting people to our industry, but at the same time, it’s been an important wake-up call… it might make it harder to attract people to our industry, but ideally, the improved induction of employees will mean we’ll be able to keep workers in our industry longer,” he said.