On 28 May 2021, a specialised crane and transport service company pleaded guilty and 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 its health and safety duty pursuant to section 19(1) of the Act.
The defendant was subcontracted to dismantle and remove a 15-metre double pylon advertising sign, located at a shopping centre at Mitchelton. As part of the contract, the defendant supplied plant, namely a Humma UV25-25 (25 tonne) articulated mobile pick and carry crane (‘the crane’). It also supplied a crane operator and dogger.
On 23 January 2018, after some preliminary work had taken place the previous day, works recommenced to remove the sign. The sign consisted of a steel and plastic banner and two square hollow steel posts of different lengths. The crane was positioned on the footpath, with both sets of front tyres on the footpath and the back tyres on the bitumen roadway. The sign was attached to the crane using alloy chains. Two workers from another company were assisting. Once each of the pylon legs were released, the two workers used tag lines to guide the inside post across a fence.
The crane operator commenced reversing the crane and, soon after, one of the front wheels came down off the curb and onto the roadway. The crane began to lean and eventually overturned, landing on its left-hand side. No one was injured. However, one of the workers was positioned on the footpath within the impact zone, running out of the way as the crane fell. The other worker was within the exclusion zone.
The Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (‘WHSQ’) investigation identified that the crane did not have extendable outriggers, which would have provided additional stability. Other contributing factors included the weight of the load being suspended, including the crane hook block and lifting chains, which was at least 4.606 tonnes, and that the crane the rated capacity limiter (‘RCL’), or load indicator, did not activate.
An expert report obtained by WHSQ revealed that, factoring articulation angle and boom extension, the crane had a lifting capacity of between 4.07 tonnes and 4.41 tonnes. It also warned against sole reliance on the RCL, in line with the Mobile Crane Code of Practice 2006.
The control measures that the defendant could have implemented included:
The defendant fully cooperated with the investigation by providing material and information voluntarily and participating in interviews with investigators.
In sentencing, his Honour Deputy Chief Magistrate Anthony Gett acknowledged it was not the case that the defendant ignored safety devices, but rather that they erroneously relied solely on the safety controls within the crane. His Honour considered the defendant’s plea and cooperation as indicators of remorse. His Honour also acknowledged that the company had no previous convictions and had operated for 17 years without incident.
Magistrate Gett accepted the defendant had taken a number of steps post incident, including a move to using only crane trucks with outriggers, engaging an independent work health and safety consultant, and implementing regular safety training for its employees. The Magistrate took into account a report from the independent WHS consultant, which outlined a number of means by which the company was complying with its work health and safety duties. His Honour also took into account a number of references, all speaking to the otherwise good character of the company and its director.
Magistrate Gett acknowledged that the incident imposed no financial loss or damage upon anyone other than the defendant but commented that this should not overwhelm other considerations in the sentencing process. His Honour noted that the significant maximum penalty indicated the offence was serious, but accepted that this was not the worst case of offending and was an isolated incident.
His Honour referred to the need for general deterrence, noting that any penalty should send a message that a failure to comply with a health and safety duty is serious and will be met with condign punishment.
Magistrate Gett took into account the financial circumstances of the defendant, accepting that any fine would likely have a substantial impact on it. His Honour accepted the risk of reoffending was very low and did not record a conviction.
OWHSP contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sections 19(1) and 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011