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Gold Coast builder fined over residential construction fall

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A Gold Coast builder was fined $65,000 after a carpenter fell three metres through a staircase well and suffered a fractured skull.

The defendant was also ordered to pay more than $1000 in professional and court costs when it appeared before Southport Magistrates Court this week.The company was fined after pleading guilty to breaching section 19(1) of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 for failing to meet its workplace safety obligations. However, no conviction was recorded.

The court heard that on 3July 2015, a carpenter fell through a staircase void when working on a Benowa building site, managed and controlled by the defendant.

There was edge protection on the first floor, where work was being carried out, but appropriate scaffolding for other floors had been delayed by bad weather.

Immediately before the incident, two workers were carrying a 50kg prefabricated wooden frame, which was to be used elsewhere on site, but previously covered the void area.  Carrying the frame, the supervisor was walking forwards and the worker who fell through the unprotected gap into the void was walking backwards.

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland told the court the incident was preventable if the company had placed adequate covers or barriers over the void before storing frames over it, or stopped work until adequate protection was in place. In any event, workers also could have been instruction to discontinue work while awaiting the delayed scaffolding.

For some time prior to the incident, daily pre-start meetings had actually discussed safety issues, particularly the dangers of high risk activities.

As a result of the incident the worker suffered serious injuries, including skull, cheek and vertebral fractures. His head injury lead to ongoing slurred speech and amnesia.

WHSQ told the court that while the defendant may have been impacted by delays with the scaffolding it ordered, and its site supervisor made certain decisions regarding safety, the company's legal responsibilities were not abrogated.

In deciding the penalty, the magistrate took into account that the company gave some foresight into safety issues and had ordered scaffolding prior to incident but it was delayed. Also considered was that the scaffolding was fully erected post incident and the company cooperated with the investigation and had a good corporate safety history.

Deaths and serious injuries resulting from falls from height continue to be a major workplace concern and the number of workers dying in falls has increased steadily from 10.4% of all worker fatalities in 2003, to 11.9% in 2013 and 13.3% in 2015. Most falls resulting in deaths were from rooves (59 in the last 13 years) and then ladders (54 over same period).

More information on industrial prosecutions is at worksafe.qld.gov.au.

Media contact: OIR Media 0478 33 22 00 or oirmedia@oir.qld.gov.au

Last updated
19 December 2017