The notice before the fall
Falling objects from construction sites is a common hazard, and one that recently cost a Victorian construction company $22,000. The company received a $22,000 fine despite having complied with some improvement notices issued for the risk.
The case, WorkSafe Victoria v Hacer Group Pty Ltd (2023), involved the construction company Hacer Group Pty Ltd (Hacer), which builds residential and commercial developments. Hacer was the principal contractor on the construction of apartment buildings in West Melbourne. The task of installing façade windows and doors on site was subcontracted to another contractor.
On 29 April 2020, WorkSafe Victoria conducted a proactive inspection and issued five improvement notices to Hacer in respect of the risk of falling debris. A proposed control measure included shade cloths on the guard rails of building 2. About 2 weeks later, WorkSafe attended the site to assess the compliance and they determined that Hacer had only complied with one of the five notices issued.
On 29 May 2020, WorkSafe attended the site after Hacer notified them of an incident. A subcontractor was installing a window while standing on a ladder when he slipped, losing control of the window subhead that he was holding. The 2-metre-long subhead fell out of the window and into a car park below.
Although no injuries or other damage was sustained, Hacer conceded that there was a risk of serious injury or death as a result of the falling debris.
Hacer pleaded guilty to failing to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, that people other than employees were not exposed to health and safety risks in that Hacer did not minimise the risk of debris falling from the building. Reasonable measures that should have been taken included installing shade cloth, safety screens or safety netting.
In sentencing Hacer, the Court considered that Hacer was on notice of the risk due to the improvement notices issued by WorkSafe and that the potential consequences of the incident were both serious and foreseeable.
In mitigation, the Court noted that Hacer had implemented several risk control measures, including a guardrail and exclusion zones, and had safe work method statements and occupational health and safety policies that addressed the risk. Despite the improvement notices that were in place, the Court considered that Hacer was not deliberately avoiding its health and safety obligations. Hacer cooperated with WorkSafe and implemented remedial measures reflective of remorse.
Hacer was fined $22,000 accounting for a guilty plea discount and ordered to pay $6,558 for costs.
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