Two construction companies have been convicted for safety breaches after a labour-hire worker was killed by a falling steel frame while working where an exclusion zone would have made the site safe.
The two prosecutions were conducted sequentially.
[Full text of the cases:
Skylight frame should have been bolted down
Ceerose Pty Ltd was the principal contractor at a construction site where a building was being refurbished and several subcontractors worked.
On 13 April 2013, a new skylight was installed. A crane was lifting three skylight frames under the supervision of a manager of one of the subcontractors, DSF Constructions Pty Ltd.
The steel skylight frames weighed about a tonne each and were not bolted onto the structure where they were placed. One of them fell about 11 metres and hit a labour-hire worker, who was fatally injured.
The labour-hire worker had been told to be careful because of machines working in the vicinity, but there had been no exclusion zone in place when he was working.
They had failed to ensure the safety of workers because they had not taken reasonably practicable measures to eliminate or minimise the risk posed by falling objects at the site. The obvious practicable measure would have been to maintain an exclusion zone or no-go area until the skylight frames had been secured.
The prosecution of Ceerose
In the District Court of NSW, Judge Kearns established that the risk had been foreseeable and that Ceerose as the principal contractor had the overriding responsibility for safety at the site. The company had also been the host employer of the labour-hire workers at the site and had a duty to them that was akin to the duty an employer had to its employees. Its offence fell in the mid-range of objective seriousness.
While Ceerose had substantial safety systems in place before the accident, it subsequently undertook a comprehensive review in order to update them.
Procedures included daily pre-start discussions with workers, review of subcontractors’ safe work method statements, weekly site coordination meetings, project meetings, and increased use of exclusion zones. The company spent about $600,000 on the improvements and, by March 2016, its safety management system was certified as compliant with Australian/New Zealand Standard 4801-200.
Ceerose had expressed regret and remorse for the accident and in court expressed its condolences to the victim’s family. The court accepted that it had cooperated with the SafeWork investigations.
Taking into account the seriousness of the offence, the foreseeability of the risk and its consequences and the fact that the company operated in a high-risk industry and had a previous conviction, a substantial fine was required. However, because of the mitigating factors, including the guilty plea, the court allowed a 25 per cent discount.
Ceerose was convicted and fined $300,000.
The prosecution of DSF
Judge Kearns established that the DSF manager who had supervised the lift of the skylight frames from an elevated work platform had known that they should be bolted in place. He had known that a crane could bump into the structure, which could dislodge one or more of the frames. An exclusion zone had been in place during steelwork operations up until the skylight frames were lifted into position.
After the accident, DSF had improved its safety systems. In the preparation of safe work method statements, it required the inclusion of individual categories of hazards for each job and the methods of reducing those hazards.
DSF had expressed contrition and cooperated with the SafeWork investigation. This company was much smaller than Ceerose and had no previous safety convictions, but it too operated in a high-risk industry and its offence also fell in the mid-range of objective seriousness.
Judge Kearns said, “Anything other than a substantial fine would constitute a failure to acknowledge the seriousness of this offence and the extent of the defendant’s culpability”. However, a discount of 25 per cent for the guilty plea was allowed.
DSF was convicted and fined $225,000.