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Who is responsible for the safety of a subcontractor’s employees?

A significant fine was imposed on a plumbing and roofing business in New South Wales recently for failing to ensure that all workers, including employees of a subcontractor, are working safely on projects under their control so far as is reasonably practicable.

In SafeWork NSW v Parrish Group NSW Pty Ltd (2023), Parrish Group NSW Pty Ltd (Parrish) was engaged to install a metal roof on a new warehouse and subcontracted the supply of labour to Modern Roofing and Facades Pty Ltd (MRF).

An MRF worker was performing guttering works when he stepped on a section of unriveted gutter lining and fell nearly 7 metres, landing on a concrete slab. The worker suffered serious injuries, including a fractured vertebrae and fractured right foot.

The method for installation had recently been changed to a quicker method, but one that resulted in workers being exposed to risks of falling through inadequately supported sump holes. Parrish failed to ensure that a risk assessment was performed for the new work practice and that an updated safe work method statement was in place.

Parrish was charged with, and pleaded guilty to, a breach of section 19 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW). It was fined $400,000, which was reduced by 25% to $300,000 for its early guilty plea. Parrish was also ordered to pay $37,500 in costs. MRF was also charged over the incident, but the matter did not proceed as the company was in liquidation.

The case is an important reminder that the duty of care rests with both the immediate employer of a worker and the principal or principal contractor with control of the works, to ensure that safe methods of work are followed. The failure to undertake a risk assessment for a new method of work or to take other necessary steps, such as creating a new safe work method statement, can lead to a risk of injury, which is a breach of the legislation. In this case, there were serious consequences from the risk, resulting in an incident.

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