The defendant company held duties under s.19(1) of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011. It supplied and hired out cranes including self-erecting tower cranes and lifting equipment and the provision of labour by way of crane operators and dogmen for installation and operation.
The defendant was engaged by a developer for the hire, erection and operation of a crane during the construction of a four-storey commercial complex. A mobile tower crane was selected for the job. On 15 August 2016, assembly of the tower crane had commenced. Outriggers and counterweights needed to be in place before the boom could be unfolded. Four block-type counterweights were positioned on the support brackets and the crane's four outrigger legs were engaged.
The crane boom was partially unfolded and all but one of the main, wrap around weights were placed into position. While unloading the final counterweight, one of the main counterweights weighing more than 1.3 tonne, became unstable and fell from the rear of the slewing platform. The balance of the main counterweights also fell from the crane punching through the post tensioned concrete slab causing debris to fall below. No one was exposed to risk, but there was potential for significant injury and damage.
On 13 February 2019, the defendant pleaded guilty in the Pine Rivers Magistrates Court to breaching s.33 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, having failed to meet its work health and safety duties and was sentenced.
Magistrate Trevor Morgan fined the defendant $45,000 and ordered professional and court costs totalling $1595.80. The court acknowledged the relatively small company had been in business for over 15 years and had no previous work health and safety breaches. He noted the company had cooperated fully with the investigation and entered an early guilty plea.
Despite the lack of injury and no evidence that anyone was directly at risk during the incident, Magistrate Morgan noted that erection and operation of cranes require religious adherence to manufacturer's instructions and correct procedures.
His Honour stated the potential for harm when instructions are not followed is self-evident and can be far ranging including significant human and property damage. This was the first occasion the crane was used after being purchased 12 months earlier. For this reason, there needed to be an overlay of extra caution.
The maximum penalty of $500,000 highlights the seriousness with which duty holders' obligations are treated under work health and safety laws.
In sentencing, Magistrate Morgan indicated this was a relatively serious breach and but for significant mitigating features, the fine would have exceeded $60,000. He said companies need to take their responsibilities seriously and put in place proactive policies and procedures to reduce or eliminate risks.
His Honour accepted recording of a conviction would have adverse economic implications on the company and exercised his discretion not to record one.
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 to property from cranes overturning, duty holders should consider the following:
- Work Health and Safety Act 2011
- How to manage work health and safety risks Code of Practice 2011 (PDF, 1.02 MB)
- Managing risks of plant in the workplace Code of Practice 2013 (PDF, 1.04 MB)
- Tower crane Code of Practice 2017 (PDF, 1.56 MB)
- Date of offence:
- Pine Rivers Magistrates Court
- Magistrate Trevor Morgan
- s.33 of the duty under s. 19(1) Work Health and Safety Act 2011
- Decision date:
- Maximum Penalty:
- Conviction recorded:
- CIS event number: