A major meat processing company does not believe it is responsible for a worker becoming trapped under hay bales but has taken steps to reduce the likelihood of a similar incident occurring, its barrister says.
A judge has already ruled JBS Australia failed to comply with its health and safety duty and exposed a worker to a risk of serious injury or death, but has reserved a decision on the consequences.
An administrative employee was trapped under two hay bales weighing about 700kg each while testing their moisture levels at a JBS feedlot in the NSW New England region in February 2020.
Judge Andrew Scotting said JBS failed to take reasonably practicable steps and exposed the worker to a risk of death or serious injury when he found the company guilty in September.
SafeWork NSW prosecutor John Agius SC told the NSW District Court on Wednesday there were multiple points of failure reflective of the company's workplace health and safety culture.
The company sought to rely on its cooperation with the authority, saying it complied with improvement notices.
"There's a statutory obligation to comply," Mr Agius said.
Documents tendered to the court showing the level of cooperation "speak for themselves", he said, adding records produced in response to subpoenas the company argued it was not obliged to respond to were illegible once a judge ordered they be provided.
He said the company was entitled to litigate but missed an opportunity to demonstrate assistance.
JBS Australia's barrister Arthur Moses SC said it was fanciful and embarrassing to suggest a criminal defendant assist in its own prosecution.
"A criminal defendant has no obligation to do anything ... this is (the prosecution's) problem," he said.
While not accepting responsibility, JBS had expressed its regret over the incident and taken steps demonstrating its commitment to dealing with the cause, Mr Moses submitted.
JBS is a large corporation operating in a range of industries.
"Some of that work involves the exposure of workers to dangerous situations," Mr Moses said.
"It can't be said it has a poor safety attitude or poor safety culture, in fact quite the contrary."
He said the objective seriousness of the breach was lower than Mr Agius urged the judge to find and rejected the characterisation by the prosecution that the case demonstrated an institutional attitude within the company towards health and safety.
Finding the company guilty in September, Judge Scotting said JBS had a comprehensive workplace health and safety system that was usually followed and had communicated the risk of hay stacking to workers.
But it did not produce any risk assessment for moisture testing and the injured worker had received different training.
"The defendant knew the risks ... I am satisfied that had it conducted a risk assessment prior to the incident that it would have identified those matters in the risk assessment," Judge Scotting said when finding the company guilty.
He rejected defence submissions the worker exposed themselves to a risk of serious injury or death and found the worker had not been properly trained and did not comprehend the danger.
The judge reserved a decision on sentence.
Australian Associated Press
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