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Business fined $600,000 for failing to provide a stability book

The Case

Worksafe Victoria v Thiess Services Pty Ltd (2015)

Thiess Services Pty Ltd, a Melbourne-based construction company, was engaged by Melbourne Water to undertake conservation and maintenance works along the Patterson River. To do the work, Thiess Services built and operated a barge that was designed to carry approximately 5 tonnes.

In 2010, NSW Maritime assessed the barge and expressed concerns about stability during the loading and transportation of a 5.3-tonne excavator. A Certificate of Survey issued for the barge placed limits and conditions on its operation, including that it had to be “operated in accordance with loading conditions in a NSW Maritime approved stability book onboard”.

The barge could operate lawfully In Victoria without a stability book, but the designer of the barge recommended that one be obtained. Nevertheless, Thiess Services used the barge without a stability book.

On two occasions, Thiess used the barge to transport excavators in excess of 13 tonnes. On both trips, the operator was asked to reposition the boom of the excavator to counteract the tilt that resulted from the weight of the excavator. The second trip led to the barge capsizing and the excavator sinking to the bottom of the river. The operator escaped the excavator cabin, but suffered significant injuries. Two other men on the barge were also thrown into the water.

The Verdict

The Court found that had Thiess Services provided a stability book to the operators of the barge, the operators would have readily identified that the excavators could not have been safely transported across the river. In relation to the two occasions in which people were put at risk, the Court fined Thiess Services $250,000 and $350,000, respectively.

The Lesson

This decision is a stark reminder not to ignore advice from expert third parties. To do so will be at your peril, particularly if an earlier incident puts you on notice of the risks of injury arising from your undertaking. You need to be alert to any significant risks involved in failing to follow the engineering advice or recommended restrictions on use of plant and vessels.

Please note: Case law is reported as correct and current at time of publishing. Be aware that cases in lower courts may be appealed and decisions subsequently overturned.

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