Risk of fall from height should have been foreseen

By Jeff Salton on June 12th, 2018
  1. Risk Management
  2. Risk Assessment


Many businesses engage contractors to undertake work that the business chooses not to do or doesn’t have the expertise to complete the task in-house. When this occurs, businesses must still take all reasonably practicable steps to ensure that they are complying with their safety duties.

The business does not need to supervise the work of the contractor, but it must ensure that the contractor has appropriate safety management plans and safe work method statements (SWMSs) and that these are audited by the business during the course of the project.

In Safe Work (NSW) v Schaefer Systems International P/L (2016), Schaefer Systems International, a company that provides industrial storage systems, was engaged by a client to extend the existing industrial storage system by adding a third-tier level. The company then engaged a contractor, Sundance Racking, to install the third tier.

The tier installation platform was 2.4 metres above the flooring of the first mezzanine level and 6 metres above the ground. The installation platform had an unguarded edge and voids.

Plans were made to install permanent handrails after floor panels had been laid. A safety policy, safe work procedures and SWMS were produced by Sundance and provided to the company. No changes were made to the documents.

Sundance subsequently obtained a labourer, Mr Lewis, through an independent labour hire business. Mr Lewis was installing the floor panels on the third-tier level and fell 6 metres to the concrete floor below and was seriously injured. He had no prior experience in installing storage systems.

The judgment

The Court found that although Sundance had day-to-day control over the activities of installing the new level, Schaefer failed to take a number of reasonably practicable steps including:

  • requiring Sundance (and other contractors) to have a safety management plan as well as a SWMS; and
  • to require its supervisors to complete a workplace inspection checklist to ensure that Sundance and other contractors were complying with the SWMS and safety management plan.

When assessing the appropriate sentence, the Court considered:

  • the risk of Mr Lewis falling from the height of installation was foreseeable; and
  • simple remedial steps were available that could have minimised or eliminated the risk (i.e. use of temporary handrails).

The Court fined Schaefer $120,000 but reduced it by 20% because the company entered an early guilty plea.

Learning from other’s mistakes

Your business can learn from the Court’s ruling on this case, that is, if you know how to create the documents the Court referred to and what else you need to do to prevent something similar happening?

The answer can be at your fingertips if you subscribe to the Health & Safety Handbook. Written in plain English by the health and safety lawyers at Holding Redlich, the Health & Safety Handbook contains more than 70 chapters covering all aspects of workplace health and safety, complete with step-by-step instructions, downloadable templates and other helpful tips and hints.

Chapters include:

  • Risk Assessment
  • Supervision of Safe Work
  • Safe Operating Procedures
  • Working at Heights
  • even Training and Induction

Each chapter provides you with the information you need to ensure you don’t end up in court facing hefty penalties that could ruin your business.

The Handbook can therefore be a very large investment in your future – at a very small cost.

Order your copy today.


Related Articles: