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The following article is a general news item provided for the benefit of members. Its contents do not necessarily reflect the views of the Safety Institute of Australia.
Date: 
Wednesday, 28 November, 2018 - 12:45
Category: 
Incidents & prosecutions
Location: 
National News
Queensland

A housing construction company was recently fined $250,000 by the Cairns Magistrates Court after pleading guilty to a breach of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 over an incident in which a painting sub-contractor fell to his death on a worksite.

In March 2016, the company was constructing a two storey house in Kanimbla, and it engaged a painting contractor, who in turn used Darren McKenzie to assist with the painting work.

A void of 3.2 metres existed between the ground and first level of the house, and the housing construction work and painting was deemed ‘high risk construction work’ under work health and safety regulations.

On 29 March 2016, the company’s site supervisor and the painting contractor discussed fall protection for the void area before painting started. A timber pallet barrier was positioned across the vertical face of the void and held upright by one or more buckets filled with rubble or water.

As was customary between the company and the painting contractor, the site supervisor handed the interior of the house over to the painting contractor for it to be taped up and sprayed. After the site supervisor left the house, the pallet barrier was removed and placed against a door frame to the right of the void area.

On 1 April 2016, McKenzie fell through the void and sustained fatal injuries. There were no eyewitnesses and the exact sequence of events leading up to the incident are unknown.

A report from Workplace Health and Safety Queensland’s Engineering Unit determined the pallet barrier was inadequate, non-compliant with work health and safety regulations and unsafe as a form of edge protection.

Acting Magistrate Terence Browne noted the death of this worker was preventable and the company had failed in its responsibilities under the Act.

The work was high risk and the company’s safety plan contained largely generic clauses which didn’t specifically relate to the construction work being done at the site.

Appropriate fall protection measures were readily available and not overly burdensome, and the hazard was obvious and the risk which materialised was catastrophic.

In determining penalty, the Magistrate noted the defendant’s relatively modest income over previous years, its lack of previous WHSQ breaches, genuine remorse and post incident measures undertaken.

“Sadly, not erecting an appropriate protection barrier cost a man his life,” said Dr Simon Blackwood, head of Workplace Health and Safety Queensland.

“Shortcuts and haphazard barriers offer no safety at all to workers.

“Employers have a basic responsibility to keep their workers safe – to make sure they go home to their families at the end of a shift.

“There were clear dangers here, the chances of a fall high, but very little was done to mitigate the risk.”