Due diligence and safety duty breaches by edge protection company and its director

An edge protection company and its sole director have pleaded guilty to offences under s.32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (the Act). The defendants were charged for breaching their respective duties under s.19 and s.27 of the Act. On 13 March 2020, in the Brisbane Magistrates Court, the defendants were fined a total of $55,000.

The company had been engaged to install edge protection to a domestic dwelling at Highgate Hill, the roof of which was to be replaced by a separate contractor. On 7 March 2018, a third-party roofing contractor leant against a horizontal edge protection rail.  The rail gave way, and the worker fell 2.6 metres onto a concrete surface below. He suffered a significant fracture injury to his left knee as well as laceration injuries to his left leg and left hand.

The investigation by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland discovered that the railing on the edge of the roof had not been adequately secured by the scaffold coupling, which had not been sufficiently tightened. A technical report obtained by investigators detailed an alternative configuration that could have been installed, with the railing abutting behind the vertical scaffold support post.That configuration would have provided a secondary method to secure the horizontal rail behind the vertical post in the event of the coupling releasing inadvertently.

The company work method for installing edge protection required a designated worker to ensure all couplings were secured. On this occasion, the director was designated to check the couplings but left the site for approximately 30 minutes to provide a quote on another site. In his absence, he tasked another worker to carry out the inspection, which ultimately was not undertaken.

In sentencing, the magistrate considered general deterrence and the need to denounce the conduct of the defendants as weighty factor. He accepted that the defendants were remorseful and had been emotionally distressed and affected by the incident, while also noting that the purpose of the Work Health Safety legislative scheme is to ensure protection of the community and that workers are able to return home safely. The magistrate noted that the injured worker had suffered a significant injury but had since recovered and returned to his pre-incident roofing employment.

The magistrate observed that although the company remained operating, it was not particularly profitable, and that any penalty imposed would be a significant burden. The defendants had co-operated with the investigation and neither had any prior work health and safety convictions. There had been an early plea of guilty, and the defendant company had implemented post-incident measures that would, if followed, ensure a similar incident would not occur.

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

Court Report  
General  
Industry Roofing edge protection
Date of offence 7 March 2018
Injury Knee fracture and lacerations
Court Brisbane Magistrates Court
Magistrate Magistrate Courtney
Decision date 13 March 2020
Company Officer 1  
Legislation Section 32, duty 27, Work Health and Safety Act 2011
Plea Guilty
Penalty $5,000.00
Maximum fine available $300,000.00
Professional and legal costs $500
Court costs $101.80
In default period to pay Referred to SPER
Conviction recorded No
Company  
Legislation Section 32, duty 19(1), Work Health and Safety Act 2011
Plea Guilty
Penalty $50,000.00
Maximum fine available $1,500,000.00
Professional and legal costs $500
Court costs $101.80
In default period to pay Referred to SPER
Conviction recorded No