The defendant company held duties under s.19(1) of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 as a business that undertook building work, in particular carpentry subcontracting for other entities.
On 16 December 2014, injuries were sustained by a young worker (18 years old) in his first year of a carpentry apprenticeship.
He was working with two carpenters also employed by the defendant. They were all working on the roof and was directed by one of the others to drill holes in the block work for internal girders while the other two workers continued working on the roof. He was drilling holes into masonry block work while standing on a 6 foot ladder positioned in the vicinity of a stairwell void which continued below to the first floor of the attached dwelling and then below to the garage. In doing this he had to slightly lean over the void. He fell through the void in the floor to the ground on the lower level. There were no witnesses.
He suffered injuries including to his head, rib and thoracic vertebrae fractures. He was transported to the Townsville Base Hospital and admitted as an in-patient for four days. He was unable to return to work for 6 weeks. He has returned to work and will finish his apprenticeship with the defendant company.
The defendant pleaded guilty in the Townsville Magistrates Court on 11 July 2017 to breaching s.32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, having failed to meet its work health and safety duties and was sentenced.
Magistrate Mosch fined the defendant $60 000 and ordered professional and court costs totaling $1587.50. No conviction was recorded.
The Magistrate acknowledged that the defendant had a safe work method statement (SWMS) and this identified the risk associated with stair voids and the need for protection, however this SWMS was not shown to workers. Recognising that the offence involved the exposure to risks and that steps were available to minimise these risks. Apparently controls were in place the week prior to the incident.
In deciding penalty, his Honour acknowledged that there was a need for specific and general deterrence, however the penalty should not be such that crushes the company as the injured worker was still employed by it. His Honour also took into account the company was a small operator, had only traded for 5 years under two different directors, and employed three carpenters (including the director) and three apprentices. The defendant's capacity to pay was also considered, as well as its continuing support of its injured worker. These factors would ameliorate penalty. The defendant's cooperation with the investigation, its early plea of guilty and that it had no previous convictions for work health and safety breaches, was also taken into account by his Honour.
Considerations for prevention
(commentary under this heading is not part of the court's decision)
When working in the construction industry where there is exposure to risks from falls through voids, duty holders should apply a risk management approach to ensure the selection of suitable control measures.
Risk management involves identifying the hazards, evaluating the consequences and likelihood of harm that may result from the hazard, deciding and implementing control measures to prevent or minimise the level of the risk from the hazard and monitoring the effectiveness of the control measures to ensure they remain working correctly. When deciding and implementing control measures associated with the risk of serious injury or death from falling through the opening in the floor from one level to another, obligation holders should consider:
- Work Health and Safety Act 2011
- Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011
- Children and Young Workers Code of Practice 2006 (PDF, 0.42 MB)
- Managing the risk of falls at workplaces code of practice 2021 (PDF, 3.9 MB)
- E207098 - Company 1
- Date of offence:
- Head injuries and fractures to rib and vertebrae
- Townsville Magistrates Court
- Magistrate Steven Mosch
- s.32 of the duty under s.19(1) Work Health and Safety Act 2011
- Decision date:
- $60 000
- Maximum Penalty:
- $1 500 000
- Conviction recorded:
- CIS event number:
- E207098 - Company 1