The defendant company held duties under s.19(2) of the Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act 2011 being a company that installed, maintained and inspected working at height fall arrest anchorage systems. It was a small company which only had a working director, and operated on slim profit margins.
On 12 October 2015 the defendant company was at an aged care facility performing its annual inspection of anchorage systems it installed 2 years earlier on roofs of buildings at this facility. The defendant company agreed to provide refresher training on the hook-up procedure for the static line system to a maintenance worker employed by the aged care facility. The two accessed a building roof 6 metres from the ground via a ladder brought to the work site by the defendant company. The ladder was three quarters of a metre too short to allow safe access (1 metre past the roof line and 1:4 pitch angle) to the roof and was not been secured at the top or bottom to prevent it dislodging. The maintenance worker fell approximately 6 metres, sustaining serious injury including head and spinal injuries resulting in permanent paraplegia. There was no risk assessment conducted or safe work method statement prepared with regard to the work at height.
On 8 September 2017, the defendant pleaded guilty in the Wynnum Magistrates Court 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 Zac Sarra fined the defendant $150,000 and made an order that no conviction be recorded.
In reaching a decision, the Magistrate stated the offence was a matter where neither person should have been on the roof as the ladder brought to site and set up by the defendant was inadequate. His Honour said there was a failure of safe work systems; a systemic failure which resulted in a life-changing event for the 53 year old injured person. Although His Honour saw the breach serious, he noted the defendant was not being punished for the injury, it was being punished for the failures of duty.
The Magistrate rejected a submission that the worker held some responsibility by accessing the roof for the training because, in doing so, he disobeyed a work instruction from his own employer not to work at height. His Honour noted the laws are to protect workers and others along with officers and person conducting a business or undertaking. His Honour accepted the decision of VH & MG Imports Pty Ltd with regard to sentencing ranges under the WHS Act and noted the range for this matter was $150,000 - $300,000 and would depend on the objective seriousness of the matter and the mitigating/aggravating factors.
Magistrate Sarra acknowledged the defendant had not been prosecuted previously for any work health and safety breach, was a good corporate citizen, co-operated with the investigation including participating in a record of interview and entered a very early plea of guilty.
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 from heights, 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, obligation holders should consider:
- Work Health and Safety Act 2011
- Managing the risk of falls at workplaces code of practice 2021 (PDF, 3.9 MB)
- Date of offence:
- Permanent Paraplegia
- Wynnum Magistrates Court
- Magistrate Zac Sarra
- s.32 of the duty under s.19(2) Work Health and Safety Act 2011
- Decision date:
- Maximum Penalty:
- Conviction recorded:
- CIS event number: