On 20 January 2021 in the Toowoomba Magistrates Court, a formwork company pleaded guilty to two charges relating to their failures to comply with their primary health and safety duties held under sections 19(1) and 19(2) of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (‘the Act’). Those failures exposed individuals to a risk of death or serious injury, contrary to section 32 of the Act. Magistrate Howard Osborne convicted and fined the company $40,000. No convictions were recorded.
In August 2015, the defendant was subcontracted to design and supply “Pier Formwork and Headstock Falsework” at the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing (‘TSRC’) construction site. They ultimately provided and erected scaffolding on several piers at the viaduct of the TSRC site. On 23 April 2018, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland inspectors attended the TSRC site and inspected Pier 2 of the viaduct. The inspectors witnessed at least two workers on the pier prior to their inspection. The inspectors climbed the stretcher stairs to the decks of formwork. There were no controls to prevent persons from entering the scaffold stairs and accessing the formwork decks. The inspection and subsequent investigation revealed that the scaffolding was left incomplete, with missing and unsecured bottom and mid-rails, and absent scaffold posts and kickboards. The incomplete scaffolding exposed workers and others to the risk of falls from height and the risk of being struck by falling objects.
Numerous safety systems existed, including a Safe Work Method Statement (‘SWMS’), prestart meetings and checklists, together with task risk assessments. Despite these systems, the scaffolding was left incomplete without any controls to restrict access to it. Had the work been conducted in accordance with the SWMS or the Scaffolding Code of Practice 2009, the offending would not have occurred.
In sentencing the defendant, Magistrate Osborne noted the defendant’s lack of previous convictions, timely plea, and cooperation with investigators. His Honour noted that deterrence was an important consideration, stating that workplace accidents are prevalent, and a message must be sent to others that failure to comply with their work health and safety obligations was a serious matter to be met with condign punishment. His Honour accepted that the defendant had instituted thorough safety systems and the failures related to an isolated case, involving two workers. His Honour acknowledged that this was not a case where the defendant ignored its duties, noting that the risks were foreseen and controls were in place; however, those controls were not complied with. His Honour accepted that the company had demonstrated remorse. His Honour took into account that no harm resulted from the exposure to the risks and considered the offending to be in the low to mid-range of seriousness for offences of this type.
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Sections 19(1), 19(2) and 32 Work Health and Safety Act 2011