Death of apprentice leads to conviction for builder

By Safety Solutions Staff
Thursday, 07 September, 2017

The death of an apprentice has led to a fine and conviction for a building company in Moorabbin.

Jacbe Builders Pty Ltd and its director, David Fergusson, pleaded guilty to failing to provide and maintain a safe working environment at a Caulfield construction site during 2013.

The company was fined $700,000 and Fergusson was fined $180,000.

The Melbourne County Court heard that the company was engaged to carry out carpentry work at an apartment complex under construction on Hawthorn Road. After the foundations had been laid at the site and a block wall built to just above the level of the first floor, Fergusson and his 21-year-old apprentice installed first-floor trusses and laid the first floor. After this, the block wall was completed up to the second level.

After the second-floor trusses were installed, a load of flooring sheets was delivered to the site and Fergusson instructed a crane driver to lift and place them onto the second-floor trusses.

It was estimated the flooring sheets weighed a total of 1.76 tonnes and, shortly after they were placed on the second floor, the trusses collapsed. They fell on to the first floor and then both floors collapsed to the ground.

Both Fergusson and the apprentice were working on the second floor at the time of the incident, and both fell to the ground. Fergusson suffered a number of injuries but his apprentice was trapped under the debris and died at the scene.

The court heard that the building methods used by the company were a significant departure from acceptable safety standards.

WorkSafe Victoria Head of Hazardous Industries and Industry Practice Michael Coffey said basic safety failures had caused the tragic loss of a young man’s life.

“The company’s complete failure to ensure work at the site was carried out in a safe way resulted in a young man losing his life for simply doing his job,” Coffey said.

“He put his trust in his boss, and his boss failed him in the worst possible way. And this young man’s family has been left to grieve for a lifetime.”

Coffey said understanding the load-bearing capacity of floors under construction was a basic skill.

“Floor collapses can be caused by overloading areas with construction materials, the new floor not being structurally completed or the structural support elements being inadequate or altered,” he said.

“That is why it is critical that builders ensure the load-bearing capacity of floors under construction are known by everyone at the site.

“Workers who are loading materials must be aware of the floor’s limitations, including loading sequence or positioning requirements. This is particularly important when builders or contractors are using cranes to place bulk materials onto a floor or its trusses.”

WorkSafe Victoria has provided the below construction safety tips:

  • Builders should know the floor’s load-bearing capacity and ensure this information is known to everyone on-site.
  • Monitor any changes in a floor’s load-bearing capacity and inform workers and contractors (including delivery drivers) in an appropriate manner, such as site inductions and prominent signage.
  • If the floor’s load-bearing capacity is unknown or the floor or its support structure is damaged, a competent person such as a structural engineer should be consulted to determine its load-bearing capacity.

WorkSafe is currently conducting inspections focused on structural collapse at construction sites across Victoria.

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