Employment consultancy fined for employees becoming lost

An employment consultancy has been fined over an incident in which two female workers became lost in a remote location north-east of Kalgoorlie.

Two of the company’s Kalgoorlie area employment consultants were instructed to do an “outreach visit” to the remote community of Tjuntjuntjara, around 600km north-east of Kalgoorlie in the Great Victoria Desert. The two consultants departed Kalgoorlie in a vehicle at around 6.00 am, on a journey estimated to take nine to ten hours and on a road with no signs that was a narrow track in some places.

The women were not provided with a map, GPS or any other navigational aid, and consequently they became lost. They had received no training or instruction on travelling in remote areas, and so did not know what to do in the event of becoming lost.

The satellite telephone provided to the consultants did not work, and management was aware of this prior to the trip. In addition, there was no schedule for regular contact with workers in remote locations so no-one realised the women were overdue. The vehicle did carry an EPIRB, but neither woman had been adequately trained or instructed in its use and it was not turned on correctly. They had not been trained in driving or maintaining the vehicle, instructed to take more food and water than they needed or provided with first aid training.

Unaware they were on the wrong track, the two consultants drove through the night, hoping to find the community and dialling 000 on the satellite phone, which was displaying “invalid account”. They had not been told the emergency number for the satellite phone was 911.

At around 5.00am, after 23 hours of constant driving, the consultants came across the Ilkulka roadhouse, outside of which was a public telephone which one of the women used to telephone her husband, who contacted the Area Manager to tell her that the two women were lost.

They were eventually met by the roadhouse’s caretaker, who made some temporary repairs to their vehicle, gave the women some tips on four wheel driving and loaned them his GPS and satellite phone. They arrived at Tjuntjuntjara in the middle of that afternoon.

The employment company was subsequently fined $50,000 (plus $4631.65 in costs) for failing to provide and maintain a safe work environment in the Kalgoorlie Magistrates Court.

Since this incident, the employer has implemented a range of measures to address the hazards of outreach visits, including risk assessments, checklists for mechanical checks, driver safety and equipment, emergency response procedures and training in four wheel driving and operating communications equipment.

Issue Date: – Wednesday, 15 August 2012

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Retrieved from: Worksafe WA, http://www.commerce.wa.gov.au/Corporate/Media/statements/2012/August/employment_consultancy_fined.html, 21/08/2012