The defendant was an officer who held duties under s.27(1) of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011. He was the sole director and only worker in a company which installed, maintained and inspected working at height fall arrest anchorage systems. The company operated on slim profit margins.
On 12 October 2015, the defendant was at an aged care facility, as the company representative, to perform the annual inspection of anchorage systems which were installed 2 years earlier on roofs of buildings at this facility. The defendant company, through this defendant, had agreed to provide refresher training to a maintenance worker employed by the aged care facility on the hook-up procedure for the static line system. The two accessed a building roof 6 metres from the ground via a ladder that was brought to the worksite 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 had 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 fracture injuries resulting in permanent paraplegia. There was no risk assessment conducted or safe work method statement prepared with regard to the work at height.
The defendant, as the officer of the company, did not ensure the company had systems in place, and were implemented, to ensure appropriate resources (ladder of sufficient height) were available, had systems in place for undertaking risk assessments and systems for ensuring safe work method statements were prepared and in place.
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 his work health and safety duties and was sentenced.
Magistrate Zac Sarra fined the defendant $25,000 and ordered professional and court costs totaling $1684.60. No conviction was 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 was inadequate. His Honour said there was a failure of safe work system; a systemic failure by the defendant and his company which resulted in a life-changing event for the 53 year old injured person. His Honour noted that as the defendant was the director and only worker of the company the responsibility fell on him to ensure the systems were in place. His Honour stated the breach was serious but the defendant was not being punished for the injury, he was being punished for the systemic failures of his duty.
The Magistrate rejected a submission that the worker held some responsibility for the offence by accessing the roof for the training because, in doing so, he disobeyed a work instruction from his own employer. His Honour noted the laws are there to protect workers and others along with officers and person conducting a business or undertaking.
In deciding penalty, Magistrate Sarra acknowledged the defendant had not been prosecuted previously for any work health and safety breach, the director was a good corporate citizen, was of good character himself, 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:
- Date of offence:
- Permanent Paraplegia
- Wynnum Magistrates Court
- Magistrate Zac Sarra
- s.32 of the duty under s.27 (1) Work Health and Safety Act 2011
- Decision date:
- $25,000 I/D 30 days imprisonment. 6 months to pay. Fine referred to SPER.
- Maximum Penalty:
- Conviction recorded:
- CIS event number: