On 25 November 2021, a carpenter was sentenced in the Brisbane Magistrates Court for breaching section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (‘the Act’), having failed to comply with his health and safety duty as a worker under section 28 of the Act. Acting Magistrate Patrick Murphy convicted and fined the defendant $5,000.
The defendant was a qualified carpenter employed by a building company. The company was engaged to construct a two-storey residential property in Paddington. The defendant acted as lead carpenter and site supervisor, directing daily tasks on the site. The house under construction was surrounded by perimeter scaffolding, which was erected by a separate scaffolding company. The contractual agreement between the building company and the scaffolding company permitted workers from the scaffolding company only to alter the scaffolding. After altering the scaffolding, the scaffolding company provided a handover certificate to the building company noting that requirement. Additionally, only holders of high-risk work licences were permitted to alter the scaffolding.
On 22 June 2020, the defendant, another qualified carpenter, and an apprentice carpenter were all working at the site. While the apprentice was off-site, the glaziers who were installing bi-fold doors in the house advised they could not transport the glass panels up to the first level. The glaziers advised the defendant and the other carpenter that they needed access through the scaffolding. The defendant agreed to remove boards from the scaffolding adjacent to level one so the glaziers could pass the door panels up from the ground through the scaffolding to level one. The defendant and the other carpenter removed the boards, which left a void in the scaffolding. No barriers or edge protection were used, and no signs indicated there was a void in the scaffolding.
On his return to the site, the apprentice climbed the scaffolding stairs carrying a box of supplies to level one. Unaware the scaffolding boards had been removed, the apprentice stepped into the void and fell approximately two metres onto the ground. Upon landing, he lost consciousness and possibly suffered a seizure. The injured worker sustained a dislocated right shoulder, traumatic subdural haemorrhage and haematoma, non-displaced temporal fracture, and cuts and abrasions.
The company had a work health and safety management plan (‘WHSM plan’) and safe work method statement (‘SWMS’) that addressed working from heights and risks of falls. Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (‘WHSQ’) inspectors attending the site found that although the WSHM plan was available at the site, the SWMS was not.
In sentencing, Acting Magistrate Murphy took into account the defendant’s guilty plea and cooperation with the WHSQ Investigation. His Honour observed it was obvious the defendant should not have acted as he did, noting his guilty plea was an acceptance of this. His Honour also outlined that the apprentice’s injuries could have been far worse in the circumstances. In mitigation, the Acting Magistrate noted that the defendant was a young man at the time of the offending and was not made aware of his health and safety responsibilities by his employer. His Honour weighed this with the inherently unsafe nature of the defendant’s actions, and observed that it was unlikely that he needed to be told not to remove the floor where other people were walking.
In determining not to record a conviction, his Honour took into account the defendant’s lack of prior similar offending.
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Sections 28(b) and 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011