Large fines and criminal prosecutions for construction companies and officers following WH&S breaches

In the last month, four construction companies and an officer from one of the companies were (separately) convicted of work health and safety breaches. Two of the companies received hefty fines and the officer was sentenced to six months imprisonment (wholly suspended). The other two remaining companies are awaiting sentencing, which is expected to occur in the coming months.

Each case related to serious work health and safety breaches in the construction industry, which resulted in either the death or serious injury of a worker that could (and should) have been prevented. In addition to the fines and criminal prosecutions, each case attracted significant media attention, with multiple mainstream media outlets publishing articles on the incidents and the criminal convictions, likely causing further irreparable reputational damage.

This article provides a brief summary of those cases, together with our recommendations.

RAR Cranes Pty Ltd (RAR Cranes) and Multiplex Constructions Pty Ltd (Multiplex)

The first case related to the 2016 incident that occurred on the University of Canberra public hospital project where a worker employed by RAR Cranes was crushed to death after a pick and carry crane toppled over and landed on top of him.

The investigations determined that both RAR Cranes and Multiplex (the principal contractor) had breached their duty of care by allowing or not preventing the crane from operating at 130% capacity without a proper risk assessment being undertaken. As the crane began to lift and shift the load (which was a ten-tonne generator) several workers including the deceased walked alongside the load to steady it (thereby exposing them to the risk of death or serious injury, if the crane was to topple).

Both RAR Cranes and Multiplex pleaded guilty to the alleged breaches. The companies will be sentenced in the coming months where both Multiplex and RAR Cranes are expected to receive significant fines, with the maximum fine for such an offence being $1,500,000.

Global Renewable Energy System Pty Ltd (Global Renewable Energy)

The second case related to the 2019 incident that occurred when a worker employed by Global Renewable Energy, a solar installation contractor, fell 4.5 metres through a skylight in the roof they were working on, fracturing his spine and pelvis. The investigations identified there were no perimeter guardrails, none of the workers were using safety harnesses and the Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) did not identify that there were skylights in the roof (or the associated risks). The Court ultimately found Global Renewable Energy guilty on five charges of failing to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of its workers. Global Renewable Energy was fined $500,000.

Cordwell Resources Pty Ltd (Cordwell Resources) and its officer

Finally, a concreting contractor, Cordwell Resources and its director have both pleaded guilty to breaching their work health and safety duties. The breaches related to an incident that occurred when workers, under the director’s partial supervision, were using the bucket of a front-end loader as a makeshift elevated platform.

The Court heard that the workers in the bucket, which was raised 4.5 metres above the ground, were not wearing safety harnesses and were carrying out the works in pairs by having one person hold onto the person working “to ensure they didn’t fall forward out of the bucket”. When the bucket began to tilt, one worker sustained significant lacerations to his head caused by the top edge of the bucket.

The Court heavily criticised the failures in safety by both Cordwell Resources and its director. Cordwell Resources was fined $500,000 and the director was sentenced six months imprisonment (wholly suspended) .


These cases further highlight the importance for companies and their officers to ensure that they understand and comply with their work health and safety obligations and duties. In addition to the possibility of persons being injured or killed, breaching your work health and safety duties can also result in:

  1. large fines and criminal prosecutions;
  2. project delays and other associated site-based issues; and
  3. serious reputational damage.

If you have any issues or queries regarding work health and safety, please contact Jay Hatten at CDI Lawyers.

*As a disclaimer, the content does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Appropriate legal advice should be obtained in actual situations. Feel free to contact us should you require any assistance in resolving a legal dispute.


Key contacts:

Jay Hatten- Principal




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