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Builder fined $50,000 after worker falls from height

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31 July 2020

A Queensland builder has been fined $50,000 over an incident in which a worker sustained multiple rib fractures and a fractured wrist after falling from a makeshift work platform.

The construction company pleaded guilty in the Brisbane Magistrates Court on 28 July 2020 to breaching sections 32 and 19 (1) of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and failing to comply with its health and safety duty.

The company was the principal contractor of a residential construction site in the Brisbane suburb of Carina. On 22 October 2018, a subcontracted painter fell 3.1m from a temporary work platform sustaining multiple fractures.

The court heard about three weeks earlier, workers employed by the defendant company had erected and worked briefly from the platform to place boards (cladding) on the second storey external wall of the house above the skillion roof - a ten to fifteen-minute job. Following completion of the external cladding, the inadequate temporary platform was not removed and remained in place.

The company had implemented a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) for the construction site where work at height would only occur if there was adequate edge protection in place. The temporary timber platform had no edge protection.

Although the defendant had, through its SWMS, identified the requirement of scaffolding in the skillion roof area, an oversight meant it wasn’t installed.

In sentencing, Magistrate Stephen Courtney took into account the early plea, lack of previous convictions, and immediate steps to remedy the deficiency (including rectification of the scaffolding void and further refining its SWMS). He noted the company also re-inducted all its workers and sub-contractors into its SWMS for all its construction sites.

His Honour noted the risk existed for over three weeks leading up to the incident, stating it was “dangerously used on two occasions”, and daily inspections, which apparently occurred, had not discovered the deficient scaffolding. He accepted the offending was in the low to mid-range of seriousness and recognised the need for general and specific deterrence.

Magistrate Courtney noted the company had a good reputation, having no previous convictions under the Act, and had co-operated with the Workplace Health and Safety Queensland investigation, accepting blame for the offence. The injured worker provided an affidavit in support of the defendant stating he returned to work three months after the incident, resuming full duties.

No conviction was recorded, with the company fined $50,000 and ordered to pay costs of almost $1,100.

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For any media enquiries, contact: enquiries@owhsp.qld.gov.au or 0478 33 22 00.