Child killed due to worn towball – trucking firm ordered to pay $195,000

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The death of a nine-year-old girl in a Northland traffic crash has been traced back to a badly worn down towball and coupling on a trailer used by a local trucking business.

The trailer’s safety chain failed, disconnecting it from the truck towing it in October 2020. The trailer collided with an oncoming car the young girl was travelling in near Mata, south of Whangārei.

The owner-operators of the trailer, Johnston’s Direct Logistics Ltd, have been sentenced in the Whangārei District Court for health and safety failings.

Expert analysis commissioned by WorkSafe found the condition of the towball and tow coupling was of “significant concern”. There was very extensive wearing on both, which meant a small bump in the road, or change of incline, could allow the trailer to easily decouple.

As well, the trailer’s certificate of fitness had expired, and its tyres had uneven pressure.

WorkSafe alleged Johnston’s Direct Logistics failed to undertake regular and effective inspections of its vehicles, and failed to identify the deterioration of the towball and coupling.

“The company had a duty to ensure the health and safety of other people was not adversely affected by its work. Johnston’s should have been doing regular inspections of all its vehicles including the trailers couplings and towballs to ensure they were safe and roadworthy,” says WorkSafe’s area manager, Danielle Henry.

The company should also have ensured its vehicles had current warrants or certificates of fitness. As well, Johnston’s should have identified and logged the maximum weight every towing vehicle and trailer could manage, to ensure that towing componentry was rated safe for use.

“This tragedy should serve as a warning to other businesses to keep a much closer eye on basic maintenance. A young girl’s life has been lost through no fault of her own, and her whānau is forever impacted,” says Danielle Henry.

Read more about WorkSafe prosecutions

Background

  • Johnston’s Direct Logistics Ltd was sentenced at Whangārei District Court on 29 July 2022.
  • An order to pay reparations of $145,000 was imposed, along with a fine of $50,000
  • Johnston’s Direct Logistics was charged under sections 36(2), 48(1) and (2)(c) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015
    • Being a PCBU having a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the health and safety of other persons is not put at risk from work carried out as part of the conduct of the business or undertaking, namely the use of truck and trailer combination for the transport of freight, did fail to comply with that duty, and that failure exposed the victim to a risk of death or serious injury.
  • The maximum penalty is a fine not exceeding $1.5 million.
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