Dial-A-Tow fined $600,000 over crushing death of former SANFL footballer Lee Ravlich

A tow truck company has been fined $600,000 over the crushing death of a former SANFL footballer in a workplace accident, while the manufacturer of the tilt tray mechanism that killed him has been fined $350,000.

The South Australian Employment Tribunal found the death could have been prevented with a device worth $5,000.

Lee Ravlich, 63, was killed at Dry Creek when he became caught between the headboard and the tray of a Dial-A-Tow truck as he returned items to a toolbox on March 14, 2018.

The former West Adelaide player had only been employed by the company for eight days and was undergoing training.

A more experienced tow truck operator used a remote control to slide the tray towards the cab. 

In March, Dial-A-Tow was found guilty of breaching the Work Health and Safety Act in a case brought by SafeWork SA, which alleged that the company had failed to comply with its safety duty and “thereby exposed Lee Ravlich to a risk of death”.

The manufacturer of the tilt tray mechanism, AHRNS Handling Equipment, pleaded guilty to the same crime.

Signs installed after risk assessment

A risk assessment done by AHRNS had warned of a crush risk, which the company addressed by installing four danger signs on the truck.

Dial-A-Tow did not identify the crush danger in its own risk assessment done in 2017.

In his judgement against Dial-A-Tow, Magistrate Stuart Cole found that the signs did not constitute adequate safeguards.

“The defendant had a safety duty as an employer. It knew that the tow truck, as delivered, had a crush zone, and that persons entering the crush zone while the tray was returning were put at risk,” he stated.

“It relied on signage and administrative instructions to discharge its duty. In my view, that was not an adequate discharge of its duty.”

The entrance to the Riverside Centre with a man walking in
SA Employment Tribunal Deputy President Tony Rossi said the two companies should have been aware of the risk of death.(ABC News: Eugene Boisvert)

Magistrate Cole found that “engineering solutions were available” that could have improved safety and reduced the risk.

“The installation of a pressure-sensitive device in the crush zone is, on all the evidence, a reasonably practicable engineering measure at a cost of no more than, and probably less than, about $5,000,” he wrote.

“[It] could and should have been implemented. The cost of a retrofit installation is not grossly disproportionate to the risk.”

Danger ‘real’ and ‘foreseeable’

In his sentencing remarks handed down yesterday, Judge Tony Rossi agreed with Magistrate Cole that “the risk of serious injury or death was real”, especially when two people worked together on a tow truck.

“It was more than just foreseeable, and yet it was not addressed other than by relying upon warning signs and instruction, and compliance at all times with such instructions,” Judge Rossi said.

“DAT’s risk assessment prior to the incident was flawed and it failed to obtain, prior to the incident, expert advice and assistance by reference to its intended use of the modified design tilt tray with two co-workers,” he added.

He said AHRNS should have assumed tow truck operators could become distracted and not be aware of a person in the crush zone since they often worked in noisy and dangerous environments.

The company “did not have adequate regard to an operator of the remote control being distracted and not looking at the crush zone as the tray is being redacted (sic)”, Judge Rossi said.

AHRNS has stopped making the mechanism that led to Mr Ravlich being crushed and has worked with SafeWork SA and Dial-A-Tow to find an engineering solution to the safety risk, the judge noted.

AHRNS was given a 30 per cent discount in sentencing because of its early guilty plea.

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