Why Safety Management Systems Are So Important For Your Business

By Joanna Weekes on December 23rd, 2009

The recent case of Inspector Childs (WorkCover Authority of New South Wales) v State of New South Wales (Department of Services, Technology and Administration) [2009], demonstrates that existing safety management systems are not the be all and end all. Why? Because in this case, the safety management system in place wasn’t properly implemented by management and as a consequence, was not observed by their employees.

Unfortunately, this NSW government department learnt the hard way following the death of two contractors on 22 October 2002. At the time, the NSW Department of Public Works and Services (now the Department of Services, Technology and Administration) engaged BGA Pty Ltd to design and build a four-mega-litre water tower. Formwork had been erected to allow the pouring of a concrete roof for the tower. As BGA workers poured the concrete roof for the tower, the formwork structure collapsed. The working deck fell into the tower. A construction worker and the BGA director were killed. Three other workers standing on the deck suffered serious injuries.

The Department pleaded guilty to breaching section 10 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2000 (NSW). The Department was fined $275,000 (Section 10 deals with the duties of controllers of work premises, plant or substances).

The NSW Industrial Court found that the Department had failed to:

  • undertake any site safety audit, safety review or review BGA’s site safety plan;
  • ensure all scaffolding and formwork were safe and without risk to health;
  • ensure the proper certification of the formwork before the concrete pour;
  • undertake adequate inspections; and
  • adequately supervise, train and instruct the project manager/superintendent’s representative.

In fining the Department $275,000, the court considered its three prior convictions, but also took into account the following:

  • the Department pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity;
  • the Department’s remorse and contrition after the incident;
  • apart from this incident, the Department had a good record considering the length of time it had been directly involved in the construction industry;
  • following the incident it undertook a thorough review of its safety systems and made a large number of alterations; and
  • it had also shown regret to the workers’ families and pleaded guilty.

How can you prevent serious incidents in your workplace?

  • Ensure you implement and enforce the processes and procedures of your safety management system.
  • Do not rely on your contractor to ensure a safe system of work. Make sure you are actively involved in meeting the OHS requirements before the commencement of work.
  • Regularly inspect the site for any safety risks or hazards and immediately halt work if such safety risks or hazards are identified.

Wishing you a happy and safe Christmas break!

Kind Regards,

Andrew Douglas

Andrew Douglas

Editor-in-Chief, OH&S Bulletin

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