On 30 September 2021, a construction company 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 their primary health and safety duty under section 19(1) of the Act. The sole director of the company was also sentenced for a section 32 breach of the Act, having failed to comply with his section 27(1) obligation as an officer to ensure that the company complied with its duties under the Act.
At the time of the incident, the defendant company was building industrial sheds in Tingalpa. The sole director of the company was involved in the day-to-day operations at the construction site and in giving directions to workers.
On 16 April 2020, two workers were installing floorboards on the mezzanine level of one of the sheds. The mezzanine level was 3.3 metres above a concrete slab and consisted of 20 metal purlins between two metal bearers, along the rear wall of the shed. At the front of the mezzanine, the metal purlins were bolted to the bearer. At the rear, the metal purlins rested on the bearer. Some of the purlins had been secured by welding, but not all purlins were welded. The unsecured purlins were easily moveable, where any movement would cause a larger gap between them.
One of the workers fell while installing the floorboards. He suffered a traumatic brain injury, eight fractured ribs and a fractured scapula. Following the fall, he had ongoing neurological issues, which remained at the time of sentence, including hearing loss, balance and memory issues and loss of smell and taste.
The investigation revealed that a Safe Work Method Statement was not in place for the work being conducted at height. Steps had not been taken to identify the risk of a fall from the mezzanine level and no measures were in place to eliminate or minimise the risk of a fall, such as guard rails, harnesses or personal protective equipment. The defendant company had also failed to implement appropriate and adequate training in safe practices for working at heights and risk of falls.
In sentencing, Magistrate Daley took into account the early pleas of guilty, cooperation with the investigation and lack of previous convictions. Her Honour had regard to the company being essentially a family business and the director’s history of 50 years in the construction business.
Her Honour accepted that steps had been taken post-offence to address the safety issues including engaging a safety advisor and accepted that the defendants were conscious of safety given their unblemished history but that they had no formalized procedures. Her Honour accepted that the handyman who welded the purlins should have welded all of them, but that this was something that should have been checked.
Her Honour considered the serious nature of the offending and that a Safe Work Method Statement could have eliminated or minimized the risks if in place. Her Honour accepted the injuries suffered by the worker are relevant and significant, and referred to the continued support by the defendants of the injured worker.
Her Honour imposed an $80,000 fine on the company and a $10,000 fine on the director to be paid within 3 months and exercised her discretion not to record a conviction.
OWHSP contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sections 19(1) and 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011
Sections 27(1) and 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011