On 8 December 2022, a scaffolding company was sentenced in the Brisbane Magistrates Court for breaching section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld) (‘the Act’), having failed to comply with its primary health and safety duty pursuant to section 19(2) of the Act.
The defendant company operated a scaffolding business and was contracted by a construction company to assemble scaffolding for the construction and refurbishment work being undertaken at a workplace in Meadowbrook. The scaffolding was there assembled by the defendant company’s sole director and two of its workers. The two workers attended the worksite on another two occasions to make alterations.
As of 1 July 2020, the scaffold installed by the defendant company consisted of three aluminum scaffold platforms bridging adjacent steel modular scaffolding. The steel scaffolding was positioned perpendicular to the building with the three platforms positioned parallel to each other and the building, spanning the void between steel scaffolding.
On 7 July 2020, a worker employed by the construction company was using the platforms whilst installing fibre-cement sheeting onto the soffits around the lift shaft.
The worker stood on the platform which was furthest out from the building, and the platform moved and fell. As a result, the worker fell at least two metres to the ground where he struck his head on a concrete structure. The worker sustained serious injuries and was taken by ambulance to hospital. The injuries included a traumatic brain injury, bleeding on the brain, multiple skull fractures and a fracture of the right scapula. The worker underwent multiple surgeries on the brain and required ongoing physiotherapy for his shoulder injury and psychological treatments.
An investigation by the Work Health and Safety Queensland revealed that the scaffolding was secured using a 300mm overlay, not approved by the Scaffolding Code of Practice 2009 for the type of scaffolding used. Accordingly, His Honour, Magistrate Cook, concluded that the offending was constituted by the failure of the defendant company to ensure that the alteration work complied with the relevant safety requirements, and that the risk had existed during the period since the platform was erected, being between 1 July 2020 and 7 July 2020.
It was considered that personal deterrence was of reduced importance in this case given the defendant’s cooperation with the investigation, immediate steps taken by the defendant to rectify the breach, lack of previous work health and safety breaches and otherwise positive record. His Honour considered and accepted further mitigating details placed before him, namely, the defendant’s early plea of guilty noting it demonstrated remorse and a willingness to assist in the administration of justice, as well as the financial difficulties that had been faced by the defendant company and its sole director.
The Magistrate noted the purpose of the Act, considered that the need to protect workers was relevant, and that general deterrence was of particular importance in this matter. His Honour took into account the injuries suffered by the worker and that he was still suffering from ongoing problems as a result of the incident.
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Section 32 and 19(2) of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011