On 8 August 2022, the owner of a commercial premises was sentenced in the Southport Magistrates Court for breaching section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (‘the Act’), having failed to comply with its duty to ensure the structure is without risks health and safety.
The defendant company purchased a building in Yatala in 2017 which was leased by a steel profiling business (‘the tenant’). The defendant, as a supplier of the workplace, held a health and safety duty pursuant to s.25(1) of the WHS Act to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the structure was without risks to the health and safety of persons.
The building had three overhead bridge cranes which traversed a runway structure within. At the time of purchasing the building, the defendant conducted a number of inspections but did not closely examine the bridge cranes or runway structure. The defendant did not engage any mechanical or structural engineer to assess the bridge cranes or runway structure within the building.
The lease entered into by the tenant outlined that the bridge cranes supplied were the property of the defendant and that it would undertake any repairs and replacement of major working components. Additionally, it was outlined that the tenant must enter into a preventative maintenance contract for the regular servicing of the bridge cranes.
The tenant business did not enter a maintenance contract for the servicing of the bridge cranes but instead engaged a provider on an “ad hoc” basis to provide general maintenance, breakdown, service and repairs. The provider was not engaged to inspect or maintain the runway system for the cranes.
On 28 June 2019 a worker was operating the west bridge crane moving a large sheet of steel onto a machine within the building. As the crane was moving the sheet, all three bolts on the support bracket attached to the west wall of the north runway failed and the section of runway fell. This caused the crane and sheet of steel being moved to also fall uncontrollably. The worker was hit by debris as he attempted to get out of the way. The worker sustained bruising, a deep laceration and fractures.
Work Health and Safety Queensland (‘WHSQ’) engineers examined the workplace and found the absence of a column to support the end of the runway was the main contributing factor to the incident.
The defendant cooperated with the investigation by WHSQ and voluntarily participated in an interview.
In sentencing, Magistrate Finger had regard to the sentencing considerations set out in section 9(1) of the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992, and regarded general deterrence as the primary sentencing consideration.
In determining the culpability of the defendant, his Honour had regard to the principles enunciated in Nash v silver City Drilling (NSW) Pty Ltd; Attorney-General for New South Wales v Silver City Drilling (NSW) Pty Ltd  NSWCCA 96. His Honour remarked that the potential consequences of the risk posed was a worker being killed or sustaining serious injury as a result of being struck by falling parts of the runway or connected objects. His Honour considered that the risk posed was obvious, and the likelihood of the risk arising was moderate when considering the lack of safeguards implemented to mitigate the risk. His Honour remarked that the defendant could have minimised the risk by engaging an engineer to inspect the runway and ensuring routine inspections were conducted.
His Honour took into account the defendant’s plea of guilty and noted that it demonstrated remorse. His Honour also took into account the antecendents of the defendant, being a good corporate citizen with no prior convictions under work health and safety legislation. His Honour had regard to the considerable assistance the defendant provided to investigators by voluntarily participating in an interview.
Magistrate Finger convicted and fined the defendant $75,000 and exercised his discretion not to record a conviction.
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Sections 25(1) and 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011