On 31 March 2021, an engineering company was convicted and sentenced in the Ipswich Magistrates Court for failing to comply with its duty under section 22(2) of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (‘WHS Act’) to ensure their design of a structure was without risks to other persons. This failure exposed an individual to a risk of death or serious injury contrary to section 32 of the WHS Act. Magistrate MacCallum imposed a fine of $100,000 and no conviction was recorded.
The defendant company provided engineering, structural and civil design services to the principal contractor for an extension project at a Coles in Springfield. The project included a sub-ground floor car park with travelators from the car park to the retail level.
In October 2014, the concrete floor slab for the retail level of the project was poured. A rebate in the floor, required for the installation of travelators, was insufficiently deep and required modification. The principal contractor instructed the defendant to design a horizontal steel support beam and a revised travelator rebate sketch. The steel beam was designed to partially support one travelator, which would also be supported by a concrete band beam, and to wholly support the other travelator. In May 2015, the defendant company provided the requested design to the principal contractor.
In early June 2015, workers from another company drilled holes for Chemset steel bolts to hold the steel beam in place but did not obtain sufficient depth for the bolts. It was likely the workers had cut some bolts shorter than the design dictated and did not use sufficient epoxy to ensure maximum adhesion. Later that month, the principal contractor asked the defendant to inspect the steel connections after one of its workers expressed a view that, the beam “[seemed] a bit light on for what it’s supporting”. The defendant inspected the steel beam several days later but did not provide the principal contractor any further advice. It did, however, verify that the “site edge distances were within allowances of design detail”.
On 15 July 2015, workers from another contractor were undertaking fit-out works on the travelators. That afternoon, one worker was standing at the upper level of a travelator when the steel beam dropped on one end, causing the travelator to drop and cantilever beneath him. The worker fell with the travelator before being thrown from it, sustaining minor injuries. Another worker who was also on the travelator when it dropped was not injured.
An investigation into the incident concluded that the beam’s design was structurally inadequate to support the travelators. The defendant had incorrectly assumed that only one travelator would rest on the steel beam, which had led to incorrect calculations being made by the defendant.
Magistrate MacCallum had regard to principles of denunciation and deterrence, noting the message must be sent to the construction industry that engineers have to be held to a high standard of accountability.
Her Honour noted that the prosecution’s submission that the high-level hazard arose from the defendant’s inadequate structural design of the steel beam and apparent failure to re-examine, re-calculate, inspect, or seriously consider the principal contractor’s concerns. Her Honour referred to the prosecution’s submission that the defendant’s employees attended the work site several times and should have made enquiries and checked the configuration and load positioning of the travelators on the steel beam.
Magistrate MacCallum also noted the submission of the prosecution that the defendant’s blameworthiness was high, as the design was fundamentally flawed, which exposed an individual to a risk of serious injury or death. Her Honour considered that whilst the actions of others may have compounded the risk, the flawed design was the contributing cause of the collapse. Her Honour also referred to the submission of the prosecution that an aggravating factor was that the risk was obvious, identifiable, and foreseeable.
Magistrate MacCallum had regard to the defendant’s timely guilty plea, lack of previous breaches of the WHS Act and significant post-incident measures taken to improve its quality assurance.
Although the injured worker’s physical injuries were minor, the Magistrate considered his significant psychological injuries, which caused a substantial period of unemployment. Her Honour acknowledged that while the defendant was generally a good corporate citizen and had learned from this incident, it failed to properly oversee the site, particularly when made aware of a problem. Her Honour accepted that at the design stage, there was a need to have regard to the purpose of the structure in a public space and that a significant degree of care and responsibility was required to ensure that the design met those needs.
OWHSP contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sections 22(2) and 32 Work Health and Safety Act 2011