Waste company guilty over fatal crash

·2-min read

A waste company is facing big fines after being found guilty of breaching workplace health and safety laws over a horror crash in Adelaide that claimed two lives in 2014.

Jacqueline Byrne, 41, and Thomas Spiess, 56, were killed when a runaway sewage truck smashed into their stationary cars at the base of the South-Eastern Freeway.

In longstanding action brought by Commonwealth workplace safety regulator Comcare, Cleanaway Operations Ltd was found guilty in Adelaide Magistrates Court on Monday on eight counts of failing to comply with its health and safety duty.

It faces a maximum fine on each count of $1.5 million, although the company is expected to appeal the verdicts.

During the trial, truck driver Darren Hicks, who previously had charges over the crash against him dropped, told the court how he battled in vain to slow down before hitting a line of cars stopped at traffic lights.

He said he had been driving for Cleanaway for less than a week before the crash and it was his first time behind the wheel of the truck involved and also his first time driving any truck down the freeway.

The court was told that as the truck gathered speed he tried to slow it enough with the brakes so that he could change into a lower gear.

But he said there was "no air in the brakes" and it was going too fast.

Mr Hicks, who lost a leg in the crash, also gave evidence that while the truck was a manual, all his training by the company was in an automatic.

In his published reasons for the guilty verdicts, magistrate Simon Smart found Cleanaway had failed to properly assess Mr Hicks' capacity to perform the tasks he had been assigned or to give him adequate training.

He said the company knew or ought to have known that Mr Hicks, although the holder of an unrestricted heavy vehicle licence, had only recently obtained that licence.

Mr Smart said Mr Hicks lacked practical experience in driving a manual vehicle in particular and the driving of a heavy vehicle on the South-Eastern Freeway.

"The defendant ought reasonably to have known of the risk to heavy vehicles of brake failure on long downhill routes and the importance of gear selection in a manual vehicle to control the speed of the vehicle, and also the importance of ensuring the competence of drivers to undertaken such descents," he said.

"It is clearly a long and steep descent; it includes arrester beds obviously intended to stop vehicles the brakes of which have failed."

The case will return to court for mention in May before sentencing submissions in July.