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Major fine for builder after painter’s fatal fall

A Far North Queensland builder has been fined $250,000 in the Cairns Magistrates Court, following a workplace incident in which a worker died after falling through a void.

The defendant company held duties under s.19(1) of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 being a construction company conducting building works at various sites throughout FNQ.

The court heard that in March and April 2016 the company was constructing a two-story house in Cairns and had engaged a painting contractor to carry out work at the site. The contractor, who had worked on many projects with the defendant, engaged another painter to assist with the work.

The housing construction and painting works were classified as high-risk construction work because there was a risk that workers could fall three metres or more. A void area, about one metre wide and two metres long, existed between the first and the ground level of the house.

After discussions between the site supervisor and painting contractor, a timber pallet was placed against the vertical face of the void area to act as temporary fall protection. It was held in place by buckets filled with site rubble and water. Sometime later however, the pallet was removed and the painter engaged to assist the contractor fell through the void.

The magistrate fined the defendant $250,000 and ordered professional and court costs totalling $1,596.15. The court ordered that no conviction be recorded.

In reaching a decision, the magistrate determined the incident was entirely preventable and that the law provides onerous duties on builders when undertaking construction work. The work was clearly high risk and the defendant's safety plan contained largely generic clauses which lacked site specifics - the fall protection was entirely inadequate.

In deciding the penalty, the magistrate took into account the defendant had not been prosecuted previously for any work health and safety breach, co-operated with the investigation and entered an early plea of guilty. Post incident scaffolding was installed, together with updated safety plans, checklists and registers for each work site. The company also introduced spot audits and more robust supervision at its sites with the aim of adopting best practice principles.

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