Almost four years after the death of one of its employees in western Victoria, Midfield Meats has been found guilty on one of two charges that it failed to provide a safe work environment.

Key points:

  • Midfield Meats has been found guilty of failing to provide a safe workplace
  • The jury was dismissed after failing to reach a verdict on a second charge
  • A sentencing date has not yet been set

Patrick Smith, 49, died in 2017 after being attacked by a bull while weighing cattle alone on a farming property, known as Wandobah, in Dunkeld.

The company stood accused of two counts of failing to provide a safe work environment, and after more than two weeks in the Warrnambool County Court, a verdict was reached on the second charge.

The jury was dismissed on Wednesday morning after failing to come to a decision on the first charge after four days of deliberations.

The company has been found guilty of failing to have a system to ensure cattle handlers conducted risk assessments before working in enclosed yards and did not work alone.

The other charge alleged it failed to have systems to assess and separate dangerous cattle.

Large two story brick building.

Midfield Meats’ lawyers argued WorkSafe guidelines were “just tips”.(Supplied: Midfield Meats Facebook page)

These systems, prosecutors argued, should have been created in line with WorkSafe guidelines available around the time of the incident.

These guidelines recommended workers avoid working alone in enclosed yards and that dangerous animals were identified and separated.

Prosecutor Megan Tittensor told the court the systems could have made Mr Smith safer and removed the risks present that could have led to his death.

The jury heard from various witnesses, including WorkSafe investigators, cattle experts and current and former Midfield employees.

Against industry guidelines

Midfield’s lawyers argued the guidelines were “just tips” and it was not always “reasonably practicable” for workers to avoid working alone in enclosed yards.

Defence barrister David Neal told the court Midfield did have systems in place to keep its workers safe by only hiring the most experienced workers who knew how to deal with dangers on the job.

“It’s about hiring the best people you can find who are trained, almost from birth, to work around animals, to know their behaviour,” Mr Neal said.

“When you pick people based on the skills they have, that’s the best system you can have,” he said.

But Ms Tittensor said a system relying on the discretion of workers was “not good enough”.

She said the work Midfield employees engaged in was “dangerous and risky business” and workers such as Patrick Smith deserved more.

Cows in a farm field.

Midfield employee Patrick Smith had worked with farm cattle since he was a child.(Supplied: Midfield Meats Facebook page)

First charge dismissed

Craig Oliver, who owned the farm on which Mr Smith died, told the court the bull was known to be dominant and had previously acted up.

But the defence said it was impossible for Midfield employees to avoid working with dangerous cattle.

The company’s lawyers told the court WorkSafe guidelines recommending dangerous cattle be removed and separated were unreasonable because cattle could become more aggressive if they were not in the herd.

The first charge on whether the company failed to have a system to ensure workers assessed and separated dangerous bulls was dismissed.

The jury returned a verdict to Judge Michael O’Connell on the second charge on Tuesday.

The court is yet to decide on a date for sentencing.

Victoria’s largest meat processor found guilty following employee’s death
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