The defendant company held duties under s.19 (1) of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 being a construction company that also undertook demolition and asbestos removal works.
The defendant company was contracted to undertake demolition and asbestos removal at the Hughenden State School. This involved the demolition of a demountable classroom. It engaged three casual workers to carry out the works. As the works included demolition and asbestos removal, prior to commencement the WHS Regulations required a safe work method statement (SWMS) to be prepared. The defendant's SWMS was inadequate. It did not adequately describe the demolition works and the manner it was to be safely undertaken, specifically how structural steel roof purlins were to be removed.
Part of the demolition work was to be undertaken at height and the defendant company had brought inadequate and defective mobile scaffold, owned by it, to the site and permitted two of its workers to work from it. The scaffold was inadequately erected by the workers. It was not fitted with all its structural bracing, had no side rails fitted around the work platform, did not have all the scaffold working deck platform fitted and the castor wheel brakes on the scaffold were defective in that they could rotate with the brakes applied.
While two workers were working from similar inadequate mobile scaffold to remove overhead steel roof purlins (10.2 metres in length and weighing 90kg) the inured worker's scaffold moved. He fell 1.7 metres and was struck by a falling roof purlin, sustaining fractures to his left leg which required surgical intervention including pins and a steel rod to be inserted.
On 24 July 2018, the defendant pleaded guilty in the Cairns Magistrates Court to breaching s.32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and to breaching s.299 of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011, having failed to meet its work health and safety duties and was sentenced.
Magistrate Alan Comans fined the defendant $62,000 and $6,250 respectively. His Honour also ordered professional and court costs totalling $1092.55. The court ordered that no conviction be recorded.
In reaching a decision, Magistrate Comans stated that the breach commenced with the inadequate preparation of the SWMS which failed to detail the demolition works and how they were to be undertaken, particularly the work at height. The breach continued with the works occurring from inadequate and defective plant. Defective plant owned by the defendant was brought to site by it. The company failed to ensure that adequate work at height plant was available for use, that the workers were instructed and supervised in erecting the scaffold and an adequate SWMS was completed as required, before high-risk demolition works commenced.
In deciding penalty, Magistrate Comans took into account the defendant had operated in a high-risk industry for 20 years, had not been prosecuted previously for any work health and safety breach, co-operated with the investigation and entered a timely plea of guilty. He considered the breaches were serious, resulting in a worker sustaining injury. General deterrence was relevant to the penalty imposed and post-incident measures taken were not especially mitigating in that the Act required pro-active steps to be taken. He considered the breach to be at the mid-level of objective seriousness.
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 height, duty holders should consider the following:
- Work Health and Safety Act 2011
- Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011
- Work at heights
- How to Manage Work Health and Safety Risks Code of Practice 2021 (PDF, 1.02 MB)
- Managing the risk of falls at workplaces code of practice 2021 (PDF, 3.9 MB)
- E226568 - Company
- Date of offence:
- Multiple leg fractures
- Cairns Magistrates Court
- Magistrate Alan Comans
- s.32 of the duty under s.19(1) Work Health and Safety Act 2011; s.299 Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011
- Decision date:
- $62,000 fine for Act breach; $6,250 fine for Reg breach
- Maximum Penalty:
- $1,500,000 and $30,000 respectively
- Conviction recorded:
- CIS event number: