A farm operator in remote north-west New South Wales has been fined $180,000 after a young contractor was fatally injured while chasing a dingo on a motorbike.
Ethan Staker, 20, died in September 2014 after he fell from his motorbike at Lake Stewart Station, 100 kilometres west of Tibooburra.
The contractor was not wearing a helmet, and in September the farm operator, KD & JT Westbrook Pty Ltd, was found guilty in the NSW District Courtof failing to provide a safe work environment.
The maximum fine for the offence is $1.5 million.
Judge Andrew Scotting said the offence was one of some “objective gravity” and he took the maximum penalty into account when imposing the $180,000 fine last week.
He also imposed an “adverse publicity order”, requiring a public notice of the offence and for the sentence to be shared in rural print and online publications.
“The risk of serious injury or death as a result of a fall from or a collision involving a motorcycle was a foreseeable one,” Judge Scotting said.
“There were occasions when the musterers would ride their motorcycles at speeds of up to 80kph and that increased the risk and the gravity of the likely consequences.”
Judge Scotting said he was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Mr Staker’s death was a “direct result of the offence”.
“If he had been required to wear a helmet he would not have sustained the skull fractures, which were capable of causing his death,” he said.
Dingo chase ‘not mustering work’
During the trial, the court heard at the time of the accident Mr Staker had been diverted from mustering sheep to chase and kill a dingo.
The property — located close to the dingo fence on the Queensland and South Australian borders — was often threatened by packs of dingoes, which could kill up to 100 sheep in one night, the court heard.
It heard bounties were paid for dead dingoes and, while they mostly shot, at other times they were killed by “more primitive means”.
These including hitting them with vehicles or chasing them with motorcycles until they were tired, before hitting them with sticks or rocks.
The court heard that when dingoes were on the property all other work stopped while they were killed or chased away.
The defendant had argued at trial that it was not responsible for Mr Staker’s death, as chasing dingoes was not part of his mustering work.
The defendant also argued it was not “reasonably practicable” to wear a helmet while mustering because it impaired the rider’s view and was too hot in the harsh summer months.
On both matters, Judge Scotting found otherwise.
Farm to be sold following death
The sentence hearing heard that following Mr Staker’s death, the farm’s director, Kelvin Westbrook, immediately took steps to make all workers wear a helmet while riding motorcycles on the property.
Judge Scotting found that Mr Westbrook was of good character and “a good corporate citizen” who had no prior convictions.
He had shown contrition over the incident by paying for Mr Staker’s funeral when he realised Mr Staker’s mother would have difficulty meeting the costs.
The court heard Mr Westbrook lived at a property in South Australia and visited Lake Stewart Station a few times a year, leaving the running of the farm to a station manager.
Mr Westbrook provided evidence that, as a result of the accident, he would have to sell Lake Stewart following the next significant rainfall, because he was unable to have personal oversight of workers on the property.
SafeWork, which brought the original case against the farm operator, said it had failed in its duty under work safety legislation.
Better Regulation division deputy secretary Rose Webb said SafeWork was “committed to keeping businesses accountable for their duty of care to workers”.