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Station hand killed in crash

Tuesday, 25th September, 2018

By Craig Brealey

The death of a young station hand near Tibooburra was due to the negligence of the property’s owners in failing to ensure he wore a motorbike helmet, a NSW District Court judge has ruled.

Ethan Staker (20) died from severe head injuries on September 22, 2014 when he came off his 400cc bike while chasing a dingo on Lake Stewart Station.

Mr Staker was employed as a contract musterer by the station’s owners, KD & JT Westbrook Pty Ltd, who were taken to court by Safework NSW for exposing him to the risk of serious injury or death.

The company argued that he was not employed to hunt dingoes and might have been “skylarking” on his bike at the time.

It also claimed that it was not “reasonably practicable” to enforce the wearing of a helmet and there was little risk because when mustering sheep the bikes only did about 30 or 40 kmh.

But Judge A. Scotting found last week that the hunting of dingoes was regarded as part of the mustering work on the station, 100 kilometres west of Tibooburra, and there was bounty for each scalp because a pack of dingoes could kill up to 100 sheep a night.

Lake Stewart is situated near the dingo fence on the Queensland and South Australian borders.

“Dingoes would be shot at Lake Stewart, if that was possible,” said the judge. “On other occasions they were destroyed by more primitive means, including hitting them with vehicles or chasing them on motorcycles until they were tired before hitting them with sticks or rocks.”

During the court hearings, Mr Staker was described as a “very proficient musterer and a competent motorcycle rider”.

In September 2014 he and a fellow musterer were lamb marking which involved herding the sheep from a paddock by motorbike into a stock yard.

The sheep were located by gyrocopter and the pilot would direct the workers to them via UHF radio. 

Motocross helmets were available for the musterers but they did not like wearing them because they said they were hot, heavy and restricted vision; they preferred wide-brimmed hats, the court heard.

It also heard that Westbrook Pty Ltd did not have a safe work method statement regarding mustering work and had therefore failed to provide sufficient information to workers to make an informed choice about wearing them.

Early on the morning of September 22, Mr Staker and his workmate were directed by the pilot to two dingoes in a paddock. It was sandy country, with open flats between the hills, mulga and saltbush, and the ground was somewhat uneven, with mounds and ‘washout areas’ where water had run away leaving compacted dirt.

When the musterers approached the dingoes they ran away in separate directions. Mr Staker pursued one and his mate the other.

The court was told his workmate chased his dingo for about 30 minutes, trying to tire it out but then deliberately ran into it. He fell off his bike and the dog bit him on the leg and got away.

Meanwhile, Mr Staker radioed the pilot that he had lost his dingo but a short time later the pilot was unable to raise him on the radio. 

“He flew back towards the swamp area and saw Mr Staker lying face down on the ground next to his bike,” the judge said, and he radioed the other musterer and told him to come to where he was hovering.

His mate found him with no pulse and not breathing. He performed cardio pulmonary resuscitation for around an hour until the pilot arrived.

The pilot, meanwhile, had called the homestead about 8.05am and asked that emergency services be alerted. 

Broken Hill police also arrived and forensics officers hypothesised that Mr Staker’s bike had hit a mound in the washout and become airborne for about 10 metres.

But Judge Scotting said there was no evidence that he had made the jump for a fun. 

“Even if Mr Staker was ‘skylarking’ at the time, which I do not find that he was, this was something that was known to the defendant that the workers sometimes did and was within the scope of the duty owed to him,” the judge said.

Following the accident, Westbrook Pty Ltd introduced and enforced a requirement that employees and contractors wear helmets at all times while riding motorcycles at Lake Stewart.

“This policy was implemented at minimal cost to the defendant,” said judge Scotting. “All workers riding motorcycles at Lake Stewart after the incident complied with this requirement.”

A date has yet to be set for the sentence hearing.

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