On 9 March 2023, a solar power company was sentenced in the Hervey Bay 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 was engaged to install a solar hot water system at a two-storey home in Urangan Hervey Bay. This work required the installation of solar panels and a hot water system on the roof with the electrical and plumbing running down the outside of the house and into the existing system. To gain access to the roof, a 6.55m ladder was placed against a 5.8m wall and secured to the gutter.
On 16 September 2020, two of the defendant’s workers were at the house performing the work. One of the workers was on the roof conducting electrical work and the other was in the garden installing the ducting which would cover the electrical cables and plumbing.
The worker installing the ducting was working from near the top of the ladder and was in the process of placing the top cover on the ducting when he started to fall. The worker grabbed a nearby drainpipe in an attempt to catch himself, but the drainpipe gave way and he fell to the ground.
The worker suffered extensive injuries including a ‘burst’ or compression fracture to his L1 vertebra, causing him to lose sensation in his penis, testicles, and anus, requiring the use of a urinary catheter and manual evacuation of his bowel.
The defendant failed to manage the risk of workers falling from height, namely by failing to require that workers used fall arrest systems such as harnesses when working from ladders at a height above two metres.
In arriving at her sentence, Magistrate McGarvie had regard to the circumstances of the offending and the injuries suffered by the worker, noting that the facts of this matter were serious and troubling, and the injuries were extensive. Her Honour also took into account the purpose and provisions of the Act and the relevant portions of the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 (Qld).
It was considered that general deterrence was of significant importance, to ensure that companies do not see incidents such as these as simply the cost of doing business and ensure that they are cognisant of the risks and understand the need to not expose their workers to such risks.
In mitigation, it was accepted that the defendant had entered an early guilty plea, had no prior convictions and had not been indifferent to the safety of its workers. Her Honour accepted that the defendant had previously complied with notices issued by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland and had engaged an external safety consultant to assist with the drafting of the safe work systems both before and after the incident.
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Section 32 and 19(2) of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011