A Queensland building company was sentenced in the Brisbane Magistrates Court on 28 July 2020 for breaching s.32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, having failed to comply with its work health and safety duty which exposed a work to a risk of serious injury or death.
The company was the principal contractor of a residential construction site in the Brisbane suburb of Carina. On 22 October 2018, a self-employed subcontract painter fell 3.1 metres from a temporary work platform, sustaining multiple fractures.
About three weeks prior to the incident, workers employed by the building company had erected and worked briefly from the platform to place boards (cladding) on the second storey external wall of the house above the skillion roof. Following completion of the external cladding, the inadequate temporary platform was not removed and remained in place. The work platform was inadequate as it did not have edge protection.
The subcontract painter accessed the platform to undertake his work and fell during the course of painting when a plank dislodged.
The building company had developed and implemented a Safe Work Method Statement (‘SWMS’) for the construction site where work at heights would only occur if there was adequate edge protection in place. The company had arranged for and installed perimeter scaffolding around most of the work site though in the area of the skillion roof, this had not been installed due to an oversight.
The temporary platform exposed the three workers who accessed it to risk of a fall due to the lack of edge protection.
In sentencing the building company, Magistrate Courtney took into account the company’s early plea, lack of previous convictions, immediate steps to remedy the deficiency (including rectification of the scaffolding void and further refining its SWMS) and re-inducting all its workers and all sub-contractors into its SWMS for all its construction sites.
Magistrate Courtney observed that the risk from the work platform had been present for a period of over three weeks up to the incident occurrence, stating that it was “dangerously used on two occasions”, and that daily inspections, which were stated to have occurred at the site, had not discovered and rectified the deficient scaffold or the inadequate work platform. He considered the offence was toward the low to mid-level of seriousness.
Magistrate Courtney took into account the affidavit submitted to the court by the Director of the company outlining the financial downturn experienced by the company due to the COVID-19 outbreak, noting the company’s slim operating margins. His Honour noted the company was a small business, employing approximately six workers, and stated he had reduced the penalty he would otherwise have imposed due to the impact on the company’s viability due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Magistrate Courtney also noted the injured worker had provided an affidavit in support of the company, in which he stated he had returned to work on full duties approximately three months after the incident.
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Sections 19(1) and 32 Work Health and Safety Act 2011