Catastrophic towing accident for CQ Ergon general manager
THE Central Queensland Ergon Energy general manager didn't see it coming.
Stephen Leighton was attempting to tow a tree harvester out of a bog when the attachment snapped and the tow hitch catapulted 15m and through the rear window of the tractor cabin and hit the back of the driver's seat.
The tow hitch struck Mr Leighton through the back of his seat, throwing him forward.
Mr Leighton sustained severe injuries resulting in 76% loss of body function and left him unable to walk unassisted or sit for long periods. He is no longer able to work, his marriage broke down and his 71-year-old mother is now his carer.
He has spent 11 months total in hospital for 31 operations related to the injuries sustained in the accident on his hobby farm 20km north of Rockhampton on December 15, 2015.
Mr Leighton's injuries included head lacerations, a 35cm scar down his face, spinal cord injuries, chest and abdominal injuries plus pelvic injuries.
The former Capricorn Enterprise board member was climbing the corporate ladder and was a happily married 51-year-old with two children when the accident happened. He was the most senior manager in Ergon Energy based in Central Queensland at the time.
Mr Leighton hired a Biloela-based company, Leucaena Chop Pty Ltd, to prune small trees that cattle graze on. The specialised chopper used to prune the crop became bogged and Mr Leighton was assisting Leucaena Chop employee Scott Chappel to recover the machine.
Sole director of Leucaena Chop Sam Alsop pleaded guilty in the Rockhampton Magistrates Court yesterday to one count of failing the company's duty of care to not put people at risk of death or serious injury while performing work.
According to court documents, Mr Leighton had advised Mr Chappel about boggy ground caused by a leaking irrigation pipe two days before the catastrophic accident.
Mr Chappel told Queensland Workplace Health and Safety investigators he had forgotten this and was hampered by poor visibility.
He had called Mr Leighton for help, and while waiting, spoke with the former director of Leucaena Chop - David Alsop - who had retired two years earlier - about advice on recovering the tractor.
Investigations revealed Mr Chappel incorrectly attached the towing strap to the tractor and anti-recoil safety straps were not attached.
"Had that (the anti-recoil safety strap) been attached, this tragic incident could have been avoided all together," Workplace Health and Safety Queensland prosecutor Paul Waltham said.
Leucaena Chop failed in its duty of care by not providing information to Mr Leighton or Mr Chappel about a safe system for towing the machine, where to attach the strap and the safe and appropriate use of snatch straps used for towing this machine.
Defence barrister Scott Moon said Mr Alsop had incorporated safety procedures and training into the workplace around towing since the accident, and his wife Casey had completed a course in workplace safety.
The couple are leaders in the Biloela Baptist Church with a reference tendered from the church's Reverend Nathan Stanley.
Magistrate Cameron Press has reserved his decision to be handed down at a later date.
Towing strap accidents
- 51-year-old Strathdickie man, Peter Dilges, was killed in an accident at Billys Creek, east of Hydeaway Bay on March 17, 2018. He was helping a bogged driver at the boat ramp when he was hit in the head by a tow point that catapulted through the back window of the tow vehicle.
- Chris Poulsen, 26, was killed after a snatch strap snapped and went through the back window of the towing vehicle, striking Mr Poulsen in the back of the head. He was helping a friend recover a 4WD on Farnborough Beach on June 15, 2017.