9 May 2023

'The reality of it is, we were directly responsible': How a tragic accident changed the way Wagga Motors does business

| Chris Roe
Start the conversation
Man and truck

Scott Braid from Wagga Motors has transformed his business to put safety at the fore. Photo: Chris Roe.

For many businesses, workplace safety can feel like a tedious exercise in bureaucratic box-ticking and compliance.

That is, until something goes wrong.

“The undercurrent of the Australian culture is ‘she’ll be right’ and ‘that won’t happen to me’ or ‘we’ve done this for long enough, what could possibly go wrong?’,” says the owner of Wagga Motors, Scott Braid.

“Well, that’s exactly what went wrong and there was a death as a consequence of this.”

Seven years ago an incident forever changed the way Scott and the team do business.

“It’s still a bitter pill to swallow and it’s difficult to comprehend because you just don’t set out for that.”

Wagga Motors is now a fierce advocate for workplace safety and will be sharing its experience at a free Safe Work Month event this week.

READ ALSO Riverina council softens stance after residents’ outrage at proposed 52 per cent rate hike

It was a couple of weeks before Christmas 2015 and a client from Mangoplah had brought in a truck with a horse float on the back for a rego check.

As he was not in a hurray, Scott says they did the necessary service in bits and pieces over a number of days.

“One of the repairs was a leaking hydraulic hose that we had to replace,” he says.

“Over the week of doing this repair, the person doing it didn’t test or bleed the hydraulics.”

The customer picked up the vehicle on 22 December, took it back to Mangoplah and parked it in the paddock.

The next day he sent his farmhand out to load the truck.

“A man named David Jenkins went and operated the tailgate and it fell out and crushed him and killed him,” Scott explains.

“It was technically a farm place incident, but SafeWork NSW had to investigate what had happened and the initial dotted lines came back to us here.

“We heard on the 23rd of December, there’s been an incident involving a truck that we worked on the prior day.”

As the reality of the tragedy and his business’s part in it became evident, Scott says the instinctive reaction was to keep things quiet and lawyers advised them to take measures to avoid implicating themselves further.

“What happened was absolutely disastrous, but I think we would have been better served if we had put our hand up and truly engaged with the enormity of it,” he says.

“The worst thing is that when someone loses a life their family is directly impacted.

“The ripple effect is not as great but can also be significant. It can lead to people having emotional implications, mental health, and then you have the business that can fundamentally go under financially for different reasons as well.”

READ ALSO Transgrid teams up with RDA to prepare for the Riverina jobs boom

As the process continued, Scott says the advice he was being given did not sit well with him.

“I really wanted to make sure that we didn’t try to get off on a technicality,” he says.

“The reality of it is, we were directly responsible for the death of this person.

“That direct responsibility comes to the business owner straight up, because it’s up to us to ensure we provide a safe work environment where there is clear instruction on what to do.”

In response, Wagga Motors made significant changes to its operation and began a cultural shift to put workplace safety to the fore.

Contrary to outside advice, it also actively engaged with SafeWork NSW.

“We said, all right, we’ll put our hand up, we’ve got nothing to defend here, what is our pathway forward so that we can learn and we can be of benefit out of this,” explains Scott.

“SafeWork strategically identified us as a business in a situation that they could use to promote what happened to try and get out there, tell the story and get people to listen, engage, and ideally go back to their own business and make a difference.”

As well as implementing regular training and new protocols, Wagga Motors is sharing its story through forums where other businesses can come and see the human face of workplace safety.

“It’s about us telling our story so you don’t have a story to tell,” says Scott.

As part of Safe Work Month, Wagga Motors is hosting a free event this Thursday (27 October) at the Wagga Wagga Country Club, featuring firsthand accounts from guest speakers including Patrizia Cassaniti (from Touched by Christopher), Alicia Smith (SafeWork NSW) and Scott Braid.

You can secure tickets to the event by registering here.

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Want the best Riverina news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riverina stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.