Val Eco Homes Pty Ltd was sentenced recently in the Brisbane Magistrates Court, charged under section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, regarding a failure to comply with its work safety duty as a person with management and control of a workplace. The company is under external administration and working towards winding up. There was no appearance for the company at court and the prosecution proceeded ex parte.
The charge followed an incident at a housing construction site at Balmoral in February 2018. The site was very steep, sloping away from the street frontage towards a gully at the rear of the block.
A trench had been excavated at the site to permit a block retaining wall to be erected. There was no barricade or barrier in place. Access to the rear of the property was difficult, with workers entering via a small earthen pathway immediately beside the trench.
On 27 February 2018, several workers employed by the subcontractor used the pathway to access the rear of the property to retrieve equipment. While walking along the pathway, a 21-year-old worker slipped and fell into the unbarricaded trench.
The court heard the worker was impaled on an uncapped vertical steel reinforcing starter bar, sustaining a serious groin and lower stomach penetration injury. He was subsequently diagnosed with PTSD and has some restrictions on his ability to work due to his psychological symptoms.
In sentencing, Magistrate Bronwyn Springer said that given the narrow access to the rear of the site, an alternative method of access ought to have been found and the trench should have been fenced off. The risk was clearly foreseeable, with falls from height being a well-known issue.
Magistrate Springer said there were reasonably practicable steps the defendant could have taken, including fencing off the trench. Her Honour fined the company $110,000, with costs totalling $1,097.95, and ordered a conviction be recorded.
The court noted that the defendant company had no history of work safety offences but that attention to safety should have been paramount across its numerous job sites. The defendant responded promptly by making the site safe, but this was only after the incident.
A further prosecution is currently on foot in relation to the subcontractor which employed the injured worker.
More information on industrial prosecutions is at worksafe.qld.gov.au
25 October 2019