On 9 September 2020, the defendant company pleaded guilty and was sentenced in the Toowoomba Magistrates Court for four offences against section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (‘the Act’), having failed to comply with its work health and safety duties under sections 19(1) and 19(2) of the Act, thereby exposing workers and others to risk of injury (on two separate occasions) from fall from height and falling objects.
In June 2017, the defendant company entered into a subcontract to conduct form, reo and pour works at the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing (TSRC) construction site. The subcontract was subsequently varied to include skilled labour and a supervisor. From 28 July 2017, the defendant company provided personnel and undertook formwork and concreting works at the TSRC.
On 1 March 2018, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) inspectors attended the TSRC site and inspected a pier of the Viaduct. Inspectors identified numerous problems, including fall from height and falling object risks. These risks arose from unsecured ladders, open voids and penetrations, voids in formwork exceeding 225mm, and an absence of bottom guard rails and kick boards.
On 23 April 2018, WHSQ Inspectors attended the site again and inspected another pier. They identified fall from height, falling object and impalement risks from gaps in formwork exceeding 225mm, missing and unsecured mesh screening, absence of kickboards, and uncapped vertical steel reinforcing bars. On both occasions, the formwork and associated work platforms were partially disassembled to facilitate being ‘jumped’; that is, being lifted by crane before being reassembled to facilitate pouring the next level of concrete.
Procedures, such as Daily Pre-Start checklists, Task Risk Assessments and a Safe Work Method Statement, were in place and, if they had been followed, the risks should not have been present.
In relation to the first inspection, the defendant was charged with two offences against section 32 of the Act, having failed to comply with their work health and safety duties under sections 19(1) and 19(2) of the Act. Similarly, in relation to the second inspection, the defendant company was charged with two offences against section 32 of the Act, again having failed to comply with their work health and safety duties under sections 19(1) and 19(2) of the Act.
When considering the sentence to be imposed, Magistrate Howard Osborne took into account the defendant’s early plea, their lack of prior convictions, and their cooperation with the WHSQ investigation (including voluntarily providing an interview and documents). His Honour also accepted that the defendant company had demonstrated remorse, through the affidavit of its Director.
In sentencing all matters, His Honour referred to the need for deterrence and denunciation of the conduct and noted that the central matter for sentencing was the potential consequences of the risks posed. He considered the risks to be transient and primarily arose due to the commencement of the “jumping” process. He considered the likelihood of the risks materialising, particularly in relation to falling from height and impalement, was low. His Honour was of the view that the low probability of some of the risks eventuating, in addition to the lack of incident or injury, distinguished this matter from many of the comparable decisions. His Honour commented that there were simple steps available, that were not complex or burdensome, and although safety systems were in place, these were not followed.
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Section 32, sections 19(1) and 19(2) (duty) Work Health and Safety Act 2011