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Subcontractor receives crushing $700,000 fine

A recent prosecution has highlighted the importance of subcontractors cooperating and coordinating with principal contractors to ensure workers are not put at risk.

This case, SafeWork NSW v Sandhu Construction Group Pty Ltd, involved Sandhu Construction Group Pty Limited (Sandhu), a company that was subcontracted by P&K Bezzina Pty Limited (P&K) to undertake bricklaying services at a worksite in Kellyville.

Sandhu engaged Mr Lovepreet Singh to undertake the work. Sandhu’s director, Mr Parmjit Sandhu, was Mr Singh’s direct supervisor at the site.

On 16 August 2017, a masonry brick wall that was partially built collapsed due to a high wind, crushing Mr Singh who was nearby. Mr Singh suffered serious injuries, including a severe traumatic brain injury, multiple facial and cranial injuries, permanent damage to his right eye and fractures in his arm.

Sandhu initially maintained a plea of not guilty, but in the end, pleaded guilty to a breach of s 19(1) of the s 19 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW) by failing to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers and therefore exposed workers to a risk of death or serious injury.

In assessing Sandhu’s level of culpability, the NSW District Court considered the following, among other things:

  • the Australian Standard for masonry structures provides that masonry under construction shall be braced;
  • there was no exclusion zone or barricade;
  • there was no risk assessment completed for the construction of masonry brick walls;
  • the safe work method statement (SWMS) for the worksite did not address the construction of masonry brick walls and was incomplete, and no worker, other than Mr Sandhu, had signed the SWMS as at the date of the incident;
  • Mr Sandhu did not provide the appropriate directions; and
  • Mr Singh was not provided with training or induction other than being told how to move and hold bricks.

The Court concluded that Sandhu’s breach of its work health and safety duties was serious, and its culpability was high.

Sandhu did not tender or produce any evidence, and there was no written submission made. In such circumstances, the Court could not consider or establish any mitigating factors other than that Sandhu had no previous convictions and pleaded guilty.

Sandhu was convicted and fined $700,000, which was reduced by 5% to $665,000 to reflect the guilty plea. 50% of the fine was ordered to be paid to the prosecutor. Sandhu was also ordered to pay the prosecutor’s costs.

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