In Safe Work NSW v Wholesale Joinery (2018) a cabinet manufacturer that directed its workers to work at a 4.5 metre height, without a formal risk assessment or safe work method statement, was hit with a $145K penalty.
Wholesale Joinery wanted to disassemble and remove a disused cool room on its premises and initially obtained a quote from a contractor to undertake the work, but felt that the quote was too high.
It later decided that its own workers had the skills to carry out the work, even though the company was not in the demolition or construction business.
The roof of the cool room was suspended on cables and consisted of interlocked panels with tongue and groove connections, which were slotted into aluminium tracking where they were riveted together. The panels had a sticker indicating they could bear 150kg, and air-conditioning ducting was attached to the panels.
The employer did not undertake a formal risk assessment before its workers performed the work. In addition, although the work was high risk and so required a safe work method statement (SWMS), no actions were taken to manage the fall risk, including controls like an elevated work platform (even though they owned one), or the use of lanyard or harnesses from anchor points on the ceiling.
During the work, an employee was walking on one of the remaining panels. When he moved to the edge to speak to another employee, the panel gave way, causing him to fall to the ground and sustain serious injuries.
The court found the employer guilty of not providing a safe workplace, causing risk of serious injury.
A fine of $160,000 plus $25,000 costs would have been imposed, however this was reduced by 25% to $120,000 plus $25,000 costs, as the employer offered an early guilty plea.
Make sure your organisation isn’t exposed to such an avoidable hefty penalty
If any of your workers work from heights, you need to ensure that you have taken every step necessary to protect your staff and comply with health and safety law.