$80,000 fine for company after worker falls from height

By Jeff Salton on July 4th, 2017

Construction work is typically categorised as ‘high risk’ and working at heights on a busy multi-level construction site definitely fits into the high risk category.

In May 2011, the construction company ABD Group was the principal contractor for building an apartment block. At the time, there were various carpenters employed by a sub-contractor installing particle flooring to joists.

The sub-contractor’s safe work method statement (SWMS) identified the flooring work to be high risk, and stated that “all penetrations will be securely covered and trimmed out at a later date.”

These works were carried out on level seven of the complex, while levels one to six were constructed with suspended concrete slabs. This left an unprotected stairwell void where the carpenters were working.

A carpenter using a circular saw to trim flooring overhanging the stairwell void, slipped and fell into the void while trying to retrieve an unplugged power cord. The worker fell 2.8 metres onto the concrete floor below, landing on his right side without hitting his head, but suffered internal bruising. He was fortunate not to break any bones.

WorkSafe Victoria prosecuted ABD Group and the Court found there was a risk of serious injury or death from a fall from that height onto the concrete slab below because of the absence of any stairwell void protection.

Therefore, the Court determined that ABD Group had failed to ensure stairwell void protection was installed by the sub-contractor.

ABD Group was found guilty by the jury, after concluding that it was reasonable to expect ABD Group to conduct daily site visits and weekly inspections, in addition to directing its subcontractor to install the stairwell void protection before any work was undertaken within 2 metres of it.

ABD Group was convicted and sentenced to pay a fine of $80,000.

Michael Selinger, Editor-in-Chief of the Health & Safety Handbook, says this case is a reminder that all duty-holders, including principal contractors, are responsible for the safety of all persons at a work site.

“Employers should ensure sites remain safe and without risks to health and safety by making sure that regular site visits and inspections are undertaken, and that any structures required to prevent workers from falling are installed prior to the construction work being carried out,” he said.

He added that employers should be careful to take note of the relevant SWMSs and ensure they are strictly adhered to.

Michael has just updated the W2 Working at Heights chapter in the Health & Safety Handbook, a valuable resource for any business that understands its obligations to provide its workers with a safety environment in which to work.

Don’t forget, falls from heights aren’t restricted to the construction industry. Each year many incidents and even deaths are recorded of workers falling from the tops of vehicles, from shelving and equipment, from rooftops and into holes and trenches.

The Handbook outlines the legal duties employers have to their workers and explains the relevant health and safety legislation in each jurisdiction and how it applies to your business.

With more than 70 chapters covering all aspects of workplace health and safety – from alcohol and drug use through to young workers, the Health & Safety Handbook is a resource no business should be without.

Order your copy today.

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