CDI Case Studies: Workplace fatalities and serious injuries continue to plague the building and construction industry in 2022

In 2022, the building and construction industry has continued to be marred by highly publicised workplace incidents, industrial manslaughter prosecutions, fines, and (in some circumstances) jail sentences for negligent and reckless breaches in safety.

Unfortunately, there are common themes – complacency of company directors and workers; inadequate, inappropriate or non-existent safe work method statements (SWMS); and/or the improper training of workers.

CDI Lawyers has prepared this article to provide a summary of noteworthy cases in 2022, together with our recommendations for industry participants.

First individual convicted for industrial manslaughter in Queensland

In March 2022, a director of a Gympie-based electrical company became the first individual in Queensland to be convicted of industrial manslaughter under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld).

At the time of the incident, the director was operating a forklift to unload a generator which had been delivered to site. Under the director’s instruction, a worker was stabilising the load of the delivered generator. The generator fell from the forklift, crushing the worker to death.

The Court found that the director acted negligently as he did not hold a forklift licence, the generator exceeded the strict weight capacity of the forklift and there were no health and safety procedures in place to manage the use of forklifts when unloading heavy equipment.

The director was found guilty of negligent conduct causing the death of the worker and sentenced to 5 years imprisonment (to be suspended after serving 18 months).

Company fined $100,000 for failing to control electrical hazard

In March 2022, Metro Trains Melbourne Pty Ltd was convicted and ordered to pay a $100,000 fine plus costs after a worker suffered burns whilst carrying out work on the Glenferrie Road Tram Square project.

The investigations identified that the electrical subcontractor engaged by Metro Trains had provided incorrect information regarding an electrical connection, resulting in the wrong electrical line being isolated for work to be completed. As a result, a worker was electrocuted and suffered electrical burns when they came into contact with the live system.

Generic risk assessment found to be inadequate

In a recent decision, a Brisbane-based solar panel installation company, WFM Connections, was ordered to pay a fine of $55,000 after an apprentice employee fell from a roof causing a subarachnoid haemorrhage (bleeding surrounding the brain) and memory loss.

The investigations identified that the SWMS used did not sufficiently address the relevant hazard of falling from heights and, in any event, the injured worker had not seen or signed the SWMS.

WFM Connections pleaded guilty to the alleged breach of sections 19 and 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld), admitting that it failed to ensure the safety of its worker, so far as reasonably practicable.

PCBU exemplifying a “flagrant disregard of workers demands a penalty that provides specific deterrence”

The final case study relates to two separate incidents on the same project in the space of a year involving Akkari Group Pty Ltd.

The first incident occurred in May 2018, after an unsupported excavated wall collapsed and crushed a worker, causing a dislocated femur, hip fractures and leg abrasions. The investigations identified that one week prior to the incident, the excavated wall had partially collapsed, and Akkari was provided with an excavation plan and advice to prevent the wall from completely collapsing. After the advice was “virtually ignored”, the wall collapsed, crushing the worker.

The second incident took place in May 2019, when a transfer slab collapsed and sunk into the formwork, forcing three workers to jump and grab onto mesh and reinforcement steel to avoid falling into the 6 meter deep crater. Akkari did not notify SafeWork until two days after the incident occurred – thereby constituting (in itself) a breach of the WHS Act for failing to “immediately” notify SafeWork of the notifiable incident. The investigations identified that there was no design documentation for the formwork and no structural certification signed by an engineer. Further, Akkari had only obtained a generic SWMS and safety management plan for the work which did not adequately cover the specific work being completed.

In the recent conviction of Akkari for the alleged offences, fining it a total of $900,000, the Court described Akkari’s conduct as “exemplifying a flagrant disregard of its workers [which] demands a penalty that provides specific deterrence” and said, “It’s hard to imagine a more cavalier attitude to the obligations required under the WHS Act”.

Recommendations

These four incidents are, unfortunately, only examples of the numerous prosecutions and fines imposed for WH&S offences across Australia’s building and construction industry. This update should serve as stern reminder for PCBUs, and their officers, to ensure that their safety systems and practices are adequate to protect the health and safety of all persons at their workplace, so far as is reasonably practicable.

At a minimum, CDI Lawyers recommends that PCBUs in the building and construction industry take the following steps to maintain strong safety practices:

  1. ensure all SWMS are kept up-to-date and address specific hazards and risks for each project, and all relevant personnel sign and understand the SWMS;
  2. develop and implement detailed and up-to-date procedures for identifying and managing risks; and
  3. ensure all workers carrying out work have completed the requisite training, safety inductions and licencing requirements, particularly with respect to high risk construction work.

Key contacts:

Jay Hatten – Principal

 

 

Jack Walker – Lawyer

 

 

Comment

This post doesn't have any comment. Be the first one!

hide comments
...

This is a unique website which will require a more modern browser to work!

Please upgrade today!