Working in an abattoir is not for the faint-hearted. Employees are required to operate dangerous machinery and have a strong stomach to handle animals’ flesh and blood, but they certainly don’t expect to be handling their own.
When you hear the words “abattoir”, “meat mincer”, and “arm”, it would be unsurprising if you shuddered. Unfortunately, those were the factors in Paul Draper’s case against meat manufacturer KR Darling Downs.
KR Darling Downs was one of Toowoomba’s biggest meat producers. They were well-known for their catchy television ads involving a pig and a jingle that got stuck in your head for days. What many people didn’t know, was the poor track record KR had when it came to employee safety.
Paul worked for KR Darling Downs in the 1990’s. His job involved feeding pounds of meat into one end of a mincing machine, watching as it turned and pushed mince out the other end.
He described it as “mind-numbing work” and often found himself working in “auto-pilot mode”, but it was an easy job to help pay his mortgage and provide for his family.
One morning as Paul arrived at work and began his usual routine of feeding meat through the mincer, his glove snagged pulling his arm into the machine. Paul screamed for help, but nobody could hear above the industrial noise. It’s understood his arm was in the machine for at least one minute before his mate and supervisor Peter came to his aid and turned it off.
Shine’s co-founder, Stephen Roche, was at the beginning of his legal career when he took on Paul’s case. Stephen was living in Toowoomba himself at the time; he knew how prevalent the KR Darling Downs brand was and the immense weight this case carried, not just on Paul, but the entire region. KR Darling Downs was a big and influential employer, making Paul nervous to take them on, but after the meat giant insisted the accident was Paul’s fault, Stephen was determined to see justice prevail.
Stephen fought relentlessly to hold KR Darling Downs accountable for Paul’s accident, taking the case all the way to trial in the Supreme Court. He called on multiple witnesses from the KR chain of command, and it soon became clear to the jury that the company staff had contradicting versions of procedures and events and inadequate safety protocols in place. For example, the emergency stop button was positioned so far from the mincer, it was impossible for Paul to reach it.
After a courageous and gruelling trial, Stephen and Paul eventually won against KR Darling Downs and Paul was awarded the compensation he deserved. But there was one other person in this case whom KR Darling Downs was trying to silence: Peter – the friend and supervisor who witnessed Paul’s accident and saved his life. After the incident, Peter was left with an invisible but very real injury – psychological trauma.
On that fateful day, Peter took Paul and what was left of his bleeding arm, up to the nurse’s office. As the nurse tried to stop the bleeding, Peter was told by a KR Darling Downs manager, to retrieve what was left of Paul’s arm from the mincer. Following instructions, the only way he could get the arm was to continue processing it through the machine into a plastic bag that was then delivered to his manager.
Understandably, the entire experience deeply impacted Peter mentally. Stephen ran and won a workers' compensation claim on behalf of Peter, seeking compensation for psychological trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
“The community tends to accept PTSD in war veterans and first responders, such as ambulance and police, who are routinely exposed to horrific scenes and then themselves in life-threatening situations. But when a regular citizen witnesses a gruesome accident and starts falling apart, they seem to require a higher standard of ‘proof’.”
More than two decades on, the stories of Peter and Paul have stuck with Stephen to this day. As a young lawyer at the time, their claims helped shape his career, reiterating to him and to the community, the importance of always standing up for the little guy.