Court penalty highlights fall dangers

Monday, 27 July, 2009

SafeWork SA says a conviction and fine imposed on an Adelaide building contractor today is a timely reminder of the ever-present dangers of falls in the construction industry.

Trew Stone Building Contractors pleaded guilty to one breach of s19(1) of the Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare Act 1986 in failing to ensure the safety of an employee.

SafeWork SA prosecuted after investigating an incident which occurred during the renovation of a house in 2006.

Just an hour into the day’s work, a man employed as a supervisor was working at height with a colleague texture coating a wall, when he stepped on some plastic sheeting, unaware it was covering a gap between the balcony and the scaffolding.

He fell 3.5 m to a concreted area below, fracturing his right wrist and lacerating his forehead upon impact.

The court was told the defendant had failed to maintain safe systems of work in that it did not develop and implement a procedure for safe work at heights, nor provide reasonable fall-protection measures, namely edge protection and safety harnesses.

Industrial Magistrate Michael Ardlie noted that the site was nominally under the control of the owner of the house, who’d subcontracted various work to other tradespeople. This control affected the state of the scaffolding.

He fined the company $14,875 after discounting the penalty by 15% in acknowledgment of the defendant’s guilty plea, cooperation, contrition, assistance to the injured worker and remedial measures since the incident.

SafeWork SA Executive Director Michele Patterson said that falls present one of the greatest risks of harm in the construction industry: “The injury rate from falls is about 20% for the general working community, but double that for construction. We urge everyone engaged on sites where multiple work activities are underway to ensure they are diligent in identifying risks and preventing harm arising from other work on the site.”

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