A Rockhampton Court last week awarded a former Thiess haul truck driver a $720K in damages for a lower back injury that occurred when a large boulder 2-3m was dumped from a digger in the midst of a 75 tonne load.
The incident occurred at the Burton Downs mine on 31 October 2011 however, the incident wasn’t reported until the operator started to experience on-going pain and discomfort following several rounds of treatment. He reported the incident on the 29th February the following year.
Haul truck driver for just over a year
Mr Krobath, 55, had been employed by Thiess as a trainee for a little over a year when the accident occurred in October 2011. On the day of the accident, he was driving a haul truck at the Burton site hauling overburden. He said he did not notice any pain at the time but became aware of the injury to his lumbar spine while walking the next day.
According to court records, he first sought medical help for back and left leg pain on November 23, 2011, where he advised his Doctor of a workplace incident involving sudden jarring to his back from loading large rocks. “The plaintiff did not attribute his back pain to the incident alleged in the statement of claim until December 12, 2011,” the decision stated.
In his statement of claim Mr Krobath said “The excavator operator … swung the digger boom and a bucket loaded with about 75 tonnes of rock and material and dropped the load from a height into the back of the plaintiff’s truck … resulting in (him) being violently tossed about in the seat where he was restrained by a lap-sash belt”
Records tendered with the court during the trial show that before he started his traineeship as an operator with Thiess he earned $12,148 gross in 2008 and was earning $134,185 per annum once he finished his traineeship.
The decision handed down by Justice Graeme Crow on December 20 awarded MrKrobath $719,698 for lost wages, medical expenses and other finances.
Supervisors didn’t like complaints
When questioned why he didn’t immediately report the incident, MrKrobath said while giving evidence at the trial: “Supervisors didn’t like complaints. My position was in jeopardy if I complained or raised my voice too often.”
Justice Crow noted Mr Krobath’s comment was backed by an experienced mine worker who gave evidence during the trial. Mr Hancock gave evidence he attended a pre-start meeting where a haul truck operator had brought up the problem “about large rocks being loaded”, to which the response was that “the foreman at the time pulled all the truck drivers together and said ‘you’re not working in a sandpit, you’re working in a mine’”.
“It is logical that Mr Krobath, having received a vast increase in his income, having trained for and successfully obtained a position as a permanent operator at a coalmine, would not wish to place that high income earning ability in jeopardy,” Justice Crow said.
Digger operators were the kings
Mr Krobath said he did not wish to challenge the excavator operator because as “digger operator on the mine site, they are the kings. If you challenge them, they show you the way out of the door”.
According to court documents he received a 28% impairment as a result of the incident.
The court heard that four prior haul truck driver similar incidents were recorded in Thiess’ Health Safety Environment reporting system:
- On June 15, 2011, a MrMcKay reported suffering from instant pain in his lower back as a result of an excavator loading blocky material into his haul truck.
- On June 22, 2011, a MsMcLean complained of suffering pain in the lower back, which was jolted and bounced due to the weight, size and material being loaded from an excavator into the rear of her dump truck.
- On June 29, 2011, a MrParsons complained of suffering from a muscle strain in his lower back, requiring him to stop work and spend a day resting in camp before he was taken to the Mater Hospital with a back injury caused when his rear dump truck was loaded by an excavator with a large rock.
- On September 25, 2011, a Mr Leon complained of suffering injury to his neck while his rear dump truck was loaded with large blocky material and rock by an excavator.
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