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Crane operator prosecuted for recklessly endangering others

A Victorian court has sent a stark warning to individual workers that they must follow safety directions and not recklessly endanger others in the workplace.

A prosecution was commenced against a licensed crane operator, Mr Jason Ross Briggs.

On 10 April 2019, Mr Briggs was operating a crane to transport prefabricated housing modules at a construction site in Yarraville, Victoria.

He had been instructed by his employer to use 26.1 tonnes of counterweights, as this amount was required to safely transport the modules. He was also directed not to perform the module lifts if they could not be done safely. Despite this instruction, and the counterweights being available on site for use, Mr Briggs performed the lifts using only 4.7 tonnes of counterweights. He stated that he took this step because he thought the full weight, if used, would have hit the fence of a neighbouring property.

Mr Briggs also overstated the counterweights into the crane’s data logger and took manual control of the crane’s safety system in order to execute the lift. Had the safety system not been over ridden, it would have prevented the collapse because the boom of the crane would not have been able to operate.

During the process of transporting the second heavier module, the crane tipped over, destroying two modules and damaging, to varying degrees, two nearby residential buildings. Two of Mr Briggs’ colleagues were on-site, and three people were in the more severely damaged residential building. No one, fortunately, was injured or killed.

Mr Briggs pleaded guilty to, and was convicted of, a breach of section 32 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic), which imposes a duty not to, without lawful excuse, recklessly endanger persons safety at workplaces.

The breach was viewed by the Court as being particularly serious given Mr Briggs was instructed by his employer not to perform the lifts if counterweights were not attached and it could not be done safely. Mr Briggs was also an experienced crane operator, and he had the information and expertise necessary to undertake the work safely.

For this breach, Mr Briggs faced a potential fine of up to $327,132 and/or up to 5 years’ imprisonment. Mr Briggs was placed on a 2-year community corrections order, directed to perform 250 hours of unpaid community work, and ordered to pay WorkSafe Victoria's costs totalling almost $4,500.

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