Lack of proper railing causes fall injury
A concrete stressor was working as a subcontractor at a multi-storey building construction site in Sydney in February 2015 when he fell through a temporary handrail and was severely injured.
The Freyssinet Australia Pty Ltd worker was subcontracted by Karimbla Constructions Services (NSW) and was walking down an internal concrete stairway when he lost his footing and fell under the top rail of a temporary timber handrail. He landed about 3m below on a concrete landing, suffering serious injuries, including a severe head injury, spinal injuries and chest and facial fractures.
He remained in hospital for seven weeks, three of which were spent in the Intensive Care Unit. The worker remains in rehab and has not returned to work.
The NSW District Court found that even though all workers at the site had been inducted by Karimbla and were instructed under the company’s safety system to identify and report any safety risks, no-one had identified that the regularly-used stairway had inadequate fall prevention. This occurred even though workers were directed not to enter areas without adequate edge protection.
Karimbla pleaded guilty to contravening sections 32 and 19(1) of the State WHS Act, in breaching its health and safety duty and exposing the worker to the risk of death or serious injury.
The Court heard the stairs had a temporary timber top handrail with no intermediate rails or other impediments, such as meshing, to prevent people from falling under it, contrary to Australian Standards.
The Australian Standard AS 1657-2013 required the installation of an intermediate rail or the fixing of mesh, to prevent a person falling underneath the top rail.
On the day of the incident, Karimbla installed an intermediate rail and shortly after added steel wire mesh over the top rail and the intermediate rail at the direction of SafeWork NSW.
Safe Work Method Statement
The Court was told that Karimbla had adopted a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) for the construction work taking place at the site. The SWMS covered the installation of a permanent handrail.
Each contractor was also required to have a SWMS for their work and every worker was inducted when entering the site.
Karimbla accepted that the temporary handrail was installed by one of its workers and that it should have had an intermediate rail.
Prior to the incident, none of the workers at the site had reported to the offender the lack of an intermediate rail on the stairs, even though the stairs were used regularly.
Judge Scotting said although the likelihood of the risk occurring was moderate, the gravity of the risk was significant and it included a risk of death.
He added that the safety system also failed because the safe work practices focused too much on the work performed on site and did not pay adequate attention to the dangers presented by the conditions of the site itself.
Convicted and fined
He convicted Karimbla and fined the company $180,000 (reduced by 25% for pleading guilty), acknowledging that the company did not have any previous convictions, showed remorse and had purchased pre-formed temporary handrails that have a mid-rail and comply with the Standard, costing more than $200,000.
He also ordered the company to pay the prosecutors’ costs of $27,000.
The Portner Press Health & Safety Handbook describes a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) as:
a written document that sets out the high-risk construction work activities to be carried out at a workplace, the hazards and risks arising from these activities and the measures to be put in place to control the risks.
An SWMS is not supposed to be a step-by-step guide to how the work will be performed. The purpose is to identify high-risk activities and ensure that they are being controlled. A step-by-step guide (or safe working procedure) can still be developed in order to document how the work will be performed safely. However, that is different from a SWMS.
As you can see, getting your safety systems right is paramount to keeping your workers safe and also avoiding prosecution. There’s more to look at than simply how to perform a certain task safely, especially if the work is being conducted on a large, multi-level site.
If you need help in this area – or any other area of workplace health and safety, you need a copy of the Health & Safety Handbook.
Written in plain English by the experts at Holding Redlich lawyers, the Handbook is yours to trial obligation-free to see how it can you legally meet your health & safety duties to your workers.