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‘Glaringly obvious’ oversight attracts hefty fines for builders

TWO major Queensland construction companies have been fined $150,000 over a 'glaringly obvious' oversight that left a subcontractor with spinal injuries.

Both companies pleaded guilty in the Brisbane Magistrates Court to breaching Queensland’s Work Health and Safety Act 2011, failing to comply with their health and safety obligations.

A Brisbane company, and another from the Sunshine Coast,were each fined $75,000, plus costs of $1,500.

The court heard the injury occurred on the Virtuoso unit complex construction site at West End in March 2018.

The company subcontracted to do flooring had completed a safe work method statement (SWMS) in relation to the installation of the flooring system which was revised by the principal contractor. In a review of the SWMS there was discussion about voids and penetrations, but no debate about a specific garbage chute penetration. The SWMS did not have a process to identify the hazard of penetrations or voids.

There was in fact a void in the level 2 deck for a garbage chute, which was identified by another contractor who covered it with two boards as a control. On 7 March, a worker was on Level 2, close to the covered penetration when he stepped back onto the boards falling 3m to the level below. As a result of the fall, he sustained spinal injuries.

After the incident, the defendant arranged for formwork to be placed underneath the penetration.

Magistrate Stephen Courtney said the consequences could have been catastrophic. He said the risk was “glaringly obvious” and he did not accept it was a mere oversight in relation to not including it in the SWMS, saying the swift manner in which it was dealt with post incident showed how easily it could have been prevented.

The magistrate indicated the defendant had entered the contract to complete the work, expecting the profit that came along with that work, and knew of the duty it owed, saying the duty of care owed by the defendant could not be ‘contracted out of’ and contracting others does not lessen culpability.

No convictions were recorded for either company, with the court taking into consideration the pleas of guilty, cooperation, including immediately addressing the shortcoming in relation to their SWMS, demonstration of remorse, and having no prior history of breaching WHS legislation.

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