Company fails to consider all available resources to eliminate risks
SafeWork NSW v K & R Fabrications (W’Gong) Pty Limited (2019)
K & R Fabrications (K & R) was a business specialising in shutdown maintenance services for industrial worksites. At the time of the incident, K & R was tasked with reinstalling four intermediate bearing housings as part of a gearbox overhaul at a shutdown cement mill.
During the repair job, K & R employees removed the backing plates on the bearing housings, which resulted in the bearing housings being unrestrained. Removing the backing plates was a routine task for the employees and they had previously performed this step in other repair jobs. K & R did not instruct the employees to secure the bearing housings with the nearby crane or a rigging system, both of which were available.
The bearing housing was only held in place by gravity. The employees continued to work on the bearing housing, which soon became dislodged and fell on an employee. As the bearing housing weighed 1.3 tonnes, the employee suffered significant injuries.
K & R unsuccessfully defended the matter. The NSW District Court found K & R to be in breach of section 19 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Category 2 offence).
The District Court found K & R failed to comply with its duty of care by failing to:
- conduct and create a safe work method statement or job safety analysis to identify the risk of removing the backing plates;
- ensure the employees who worked the previous shift communicated the hazards and risks associated with the work to the next shift of employees;
- restrain the bearing housing by using the readily available crane and slings at the company’s disposal, or using other reasonably practicable methods to secure the bearing housing;
- provide adequate supervision and information to the employees; and
- ensure the employees who performed the work were trained and competent in the removal of backing plates from bearing housings.
The District Court found K & R’s failure to comply with its work health and safety duty exposed the employees to a risk of death or serious injury. The Court made this finding with reference to the reasonably practicable methods available to the company, specifically the crane and the rigging system. The Court determined that had the company used these resources, the risk of death or serious injury could have been eliminated, or at least reduced.
The Court will sentence K & R at a later date.
Companies need to direct their attention to all available resources when considering how to safely complete their work. Companies risk being in breach of their duty if work is conducted in an unsafe manner while there are safer and more reasonable practices available.
Companies that work in high-risk maintenance must ensure their workers are aware of the risks involved. Companies can reduce these risks by supervising employees exposed to high-risk work.
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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