The Importance of Adhering to Simple Safety: Two Key Illustrations

21 March 2018

Two recent cases have illustrated the significance of having and implementing adequate safety procedures for constructions companies.

In the first, an employer has been found guilty of negligence and fined $135,000 for breaching its safety obligations under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW).

Background

In February 2015, two workers were surveying a deck at Universal Property Group Pty Ltd’s Doonside site, upon which the Company was constructing an apartment complex.

One worker fell through an unmarked piece of plywood, and fell four meters before becoming impaled on an upright concrete reinforcement. He sustained serious injuries to his pelvis and spine, as well as significant blood loss and large lacerations.

Hearing and Decision

District Court Judge Scotting heard that the site supervisor had not briefed the workers adequately, and they were not aware of any penetrations in the plywood or any decking whatsoever.

Furthermore, the supervisor was on a break when the incident occured and had not undergone an induction with the workers.

The relevant plywood was completely unmarked, and appeared the same as the supported flooring. This remained that way despite Safe Work Australia’s Guide warning against the use of plywood in such circumstances.

The company was deemed to have failed in its obligations to supervise all those on its site, and procedural requirements set by the company were not clear whilst standards were not followed.

It did, however, implement better safety procedures, employ more safety officers, and introduce the process of embedding mesh into concrete slabs to avoid such incidents moving forward. Irrespective, at the time of incident, such protection was considered an obvious and serious risk on such constructions sites and protection should have been known, was simple, and was frequently seen within the industry.

Judge Scotting found an appropriate fine was $180,000, but reduced this to $135,000 after a 25% reduction for an early plea.

The Comapny was ordered to pay costs.

Simple Safety – Further Negligence

Background

A secondary case saw Modern Touch Marble and Granite Pty Ltd and its sole director hit with a total $87,500 fine after a worker was crushed by 6.5 tonnes of quartz. The worker had been helping the director unpack a container of quartz, when he was pinned to the wall and sustained serious injuries to his chest.

Hearing and Decision

Judge Scotting heard the sheets were allowed to fall forward due to poor risk management after the container was placed on the road outside the company’s premises.

Inadequate control measures were in place, and no procedures to protect workers from such incidents were in place. The director was operating a forklift despite being unlicensed, and the vehicle being unregistered.

Judge Scotting noted that no risk mitigation or elimination, which would have been simple and obvious under the circumstances, was engaged by the company or director. It would have been simple to ensure the worker was not under the shadow of the fall of the sheets.

The employer pled guilty to breaching sections 19(1) and 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and was fined $75,000 after discounts for an early plea and limited capacity to pay a fine. The director pled the same to breaching sections 32 and 27(1) by failing in his duties as an officer and was fined $12,500 after the same reductions.