Contractor fined for ladder collapse

Monday, 25 August, 2008

A civil engineering contractor has been fined over an incident in which a worker fell nearly five metres to the bottom of a maintenance shaft when a ladder collapsed.

Civil and Allied Technical Construction (CATCON) pleaded guilty to two separate breaches of workplace safety laws and was fined a total of $31,825 by the SA Industrial Relations Court.

The incident happened at Mawson Lakes on 1 April 2005, when the 36-year-old contract worker climbed into a 4.8 metre shaft to inspect a newly built sewer mains. The portable extension ladder gave way as he descended, dropping him to the floor of the shaft.

In its investigation, SafeWork SA found the ladder had a twisted leg and was missing a rubber boot and a bottom rung. The worker suffered serious injuries to his legs, left hip, back and neck and is yet to return to work.

He was forced to make his own way up out of the shaft, pulling himself up the remnant of the ladder by his arms alone to a point where his colleague could reach in and retrieve him. SafeWork SA was not notified of the incident until five days later.

In his decision on penalty, Industrial Magistrate Stephen Lieschke noted a number of identified failings:

  • No hazard identification or risk assessment of the task was performed;
  • There was no entry permit system;
  • There was no relevant training for either employee involved;
  • There was no rescue plan nor retrieval equipment;
  • No first aid equipment was provided;
  • No personal protective equipment was provided; and
  • The ladder was in poor condition.

“It is readily conceivable that [the worker] may have suffered even worse injuries … Had he been unable to pull himself towards the top of the hole and be lifted out, the result could have been catastrophic,” said Lieschke.

While noting the employer’s contrition and commitment to workplace safety, Lieschke said that a commitment alone means little.

“A commitment … is worth little in practical terms if a structured and proactive stance is not taken with respect to all work tasks, with an awareness of all relevant regulatory requirements," he said.

“We agree as the magistrate stated, a commitment to workplace safety must be followed up by meaningful and effective action,” says SafeWork SA executive director, Michele Patterson.

“A terrible failure here has resulted in a young father paying a heavy price for that failure through serious physical injuries and psychological trauma."


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