Inexperience plus high-risk work is risky business
In a recent judgment, the Bendigo Magistrates’ Court reinforced the importance of ensuring that safe systems of work for high-risk activities are put in place and that inexperienced workers have proper supervision.
Victorian Welding & Fabrication Pty Ltd (the company) operated a metal fabrication workshop. In January 2019, a 21-year-old apprentice boilermaker was injured at the workshop when he was struck by a steel beam that was being lifted by a mobile crane at the workplace.
On the day of the incident, the apprentice was slinging steel beams and directing a crane operator doing the lifts. After successfully doing three lifts, the apprentice slung a beam and used hand signals to tell the crane operator to lift the load. The employee crane operator began to lift. As the load was being taken up, the chain became caught in a cleat in the beam, causing the load to twist and become unbalanced. The apprentice moved towards the load in an attempt to stop the load twisting when the beam slipped, striking him and trapping him on the ground.
The Court heard that:
- the apprentice did not hold any high-risk work licences for dogging, rigging or operating cranes or forklifts;
- the apprentice was not being supervised when carrying out the lifting work; and
- the company did not have any safe operating procedures or written systems of work in place for lifting and moving loads using plant at the workplace.
As evidence of the controls that could have been implemented, after the incident, the company had developed risk assessments and written systems of work for lifting, suspending and moving loads using plant. These specified that the work was only to be carried out by qualified and trained personnel holding the necessary high-risk work licences.
The Court imposed a fine of $15,000 and ordered to pay costs.
All businesses must risk assess any high-risk work activities and ensure that a documented system of work is in place. Only appropriately skilled and trained employees should undertake the work and vulnerable workers (e.g. inexperienced and young workers) should not be involved in those activities unless properly supervised.
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