On 11 April 2024, a scaffold company was sentenced in the Cairns Magistrates Court for breaching section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011(‘the Act’) when its workers inadvertently dislodged a 2 metre scaffold plank whilst modifying erected scaffolding. The plank fell 7.5 metres, landing approximately 3 metres from a carpentry worker. 

The defendant company operated a scaffold supply, erection and dismantling (including modification) business to various construction worksites in North Queensland. It employed a number of workers to undertake these tasks and on 24 March 2023 had been engaged to carry out these works at a large civil construction workplace located in Cairns. 

The defendant company prepared and maintained a Safe Work Method Statement (‘SWMS’) for use on the worksite that included, inter alia, erection/dismantling works required the establishing of an exclusion zone to prevent persons being placed at risk from falling objects (scaffold componentry). All its workers at the workplace had been inducted in to the SWMS. 

On the morning of the 24th the defendant’s workers had been instructed to modify an established scaffold in the basement area of the workplace. The workers have accessed the scaffold to a height of approximately 7.5 metres and commenced moving a scaffold deck to a lower position.  This required the workers to shift planks to a lower hop-up bracket. As one of the workers placed the plank in to the hop-up bracket he has noticed there was no tie bar present. He has manoeuvred to retrieve a tie bar and in doing so the plank has dislodged and fallen 7.5 metres. 

Whilst no person has been struck by the fallen scaffold plank, a carpentry worker had been carrying out carpentry works approximately 3 metres from where the scaffold plank landed. 

The incident was reported to Workplace Health and Safety Queensland and inspectors attended on the incident date to undertake investigations including photographing the scene. The area beneath and the near vicinity to this area where the scaffold works were being conducted was a designated safe walkway for persons to use to traverse the workplace site. The scaffold plank was 1.8 metres in length, 225 mm wide and weighed 9.5kgs.

The learned Magistrate sentencing the defendant said that the defendant company had co-operated with the investigation, was a good corporate citizen, had expressed remorse, had entered a timely plea of guilty which assisted the administration of justice, and it was to be given a discount on the penalty that would otherwise have been imposed. His Honour also noted the defendant company had no previous convictions for any similar breaches.

His Honour said the breach was a serious offence, considering it to be mid-range of objective seriousness, and the importance of worker safety which follows when safe systems of work are followed. Here he found the incident was an isolated one and he also noted the post-incident steps undertaken which related to all workers being retrained and inducted in to its established safety systems. His Honour observed that the parties had submitted the prepared SWMS, in place at the time of the offending, was adequate with no deficiency identified with the breach occurring due to workers not following that work procedure. 

His Honour imposed a fine of $15,000.

His Honour declined to record a conviction.

OWHSP contact: enquiries@owhsp.qld.gov.au

Court Report

Date of offence
Cairns Magistrates Court
Magistrate or judge
Magistrate Michael Dalton
Decision date

Section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011

Maximum fine available
Professional and legal costs
Court costs
In default period
Time to pay
Referred to SPER
Conviction recorded