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Worker sustains serious injuries after fall through a skylight

The Case

WorkSafe Vic v Global Renewable Energy Solutions Pty Ltd (2021)

In June 2019, three employees of Global Renewable Energy Solutions Pty Ltd were installing a solar electrical system on a 4.5m commercial shed when one worker fell through a skylight to the concrete floor below. The worker sustained serious injuries to his spine and pelvis.

The Verdict

Global Renewable Energy Solutions was found guilty of five charges for failing to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, that the workplace was safe and without risk to health.

It was found that no preventative fall devices were in place, such as a guardrail on the roof or fall protection around the skylight or the use of safety harnesses. The safe work method statement (SWMS) that was in place did not identify the skylights on the roof.

The investigation conducted by WorkSafe revealed that the company had engaged in unsafe practices at four further rooftop solar installation sites. WorkSafe found:

  • the use of an unsecured portable ladder to access a shed roof;
  • workers were alerting management that collapsing roof tiles were compromising their safety;
  • despite an SWMS that stated that “work must cease immediately if [an] incident or near miss occurs”, the workers were directed to keep working because the company needed the money;
  • workers were denied use of a scissor lift to safely transport solar panels to the roof of a shed and were instead directed to carry the panels up an unsecured extension ladder; and
  • harnesses worn by workers on a commercial shed that was 10m high were not connected to the roof, perimeter guard-railing was not installed around the whole work area and the transparent sheeting on the roof was not covered.

WorkSafe said that Global Renewable Energy Solutions had shown a continued disregard for its workers.

Global Renewable Energy Solutions was found guilty of breaching section 21 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic). It was convicted and fined $500,000, and ordered to pay costs of $5,613.

The Lessons

This case is a reminder that significant penalties will be imposed on any business that fails to implement necessary control measures for profound and obvious risks of injury, particularly if there is a pattern of poor safety culture.

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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