On 13 December 2021, a crane company was sentenced in the Southport Magistrates Court for four breaches of section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (‘the Act’), having failed to comply with its primary health and safety duties under sections 19(1) and (2) of the Act.
The defendant company operated a business supplying cranes to various construction sites in South East Queensland. The company had been contracted to supply tower cranes to two high-rise construction sites on the Gold Coast (‘Site 1’ and ‘Site 2’).
On 7 March 2019 crane equipment, namely a 290kg hook block and lifting sheave, fell from a crane, landing in proximity to a worker and a member of the public. The equipment landed on and damaged other nearby construction equipment as well as neighbouring commercial and residential properties. The hook block landed on scaffolding equipment located on a roadway and the sheave penetrated through the roof of a residence, landing in an unoccupied room.
Inspectors from Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (‘WHSQ’) attended the location. Their investigations established that the hoist limiters on the tower crane had been disabled by an employee of the defendant company on 18 January 2019. Hoist limiters are electronic devices installed by the manufacturer of the crane to regulate the hoisting speed of the hoisting rope, preventing the hoist rope, hook block and attachments from colliding with the crane boom and trolley when the hook is retracted. The limiters had been disabled to facilitate a one-off lift, after which they were not subsequently reconnected. With the limiters disabled, the hoisting equipment on the crane collided with and impacted the boom and trolley, causing the crane’s lifting rope to break, and resulting in the equipment falling to the ground.
On 8 March 2019, WHSQ inspectors attended another of the sites to which the defendant company had supplied tower cranes. No incident had occurred at this site. However, investigations identified that a tower crane at that site had also had its hoist limiters disabled. The limiters were disabled one month earlier by an employee of the defendant company, as it was thought that the limiters were not operating correctly. The limiters had not been repaired in the intervening period.
In sentencing the company, Magistrate Bambury accepted that the limiters were disabled by a company employee, without the knowledge of the director of the defendant company. Further, while records maintained daily for both sites indicated that the limiters had been disabled, this information was also not relayed to the director. His Honour characterised the circumstances to be attributable to the actions of one employee, rather than a case of a systematic activity condoned by the company director.
Nonetheless, His Honour accepted that members of the public are entirely reliant on duty holders carrying out their work in as safe a manner as reasonably practicable, and that the failing here had exposed both workers and members of the public to a significant risk. It was necessary that the penalty to be imposed served the needs of denunciation and general deterrence.
His Honour also took into account further matters favourable to the defendant including the company’s timely plea of guilty, lack of previous convictions, otherwise good character, determined low risk of re-offending, and the comprehensive post-incident measures adopted by the defendant company.
The company was fined a total of $95,000. No conviction was recorded.
OWHSP contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Charges 1 and 3: Sections 19(1) and 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011; Charges 2 and 4: Sections 19(2) and 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011