A contractor safety management system.
This is what spelt the difference between a very hefty penalty and a not guilty verdict over a contractor’s death.
In SafeWork NSW v The Austral Brick Co Pty Limited (2018), SafeWork NSW alleged that Austral Bricks had breached its primary duty of care by exposing its contractor workers to the risk of serious injury or death, after a plumber fell through a section of roof he was working on.
It had engaged the plumbing contractor to repair a brittle roof area of an old factory building.
There was clear signage on the roof that read:
BRITTLE ROOF COVERING USE PLANKS OR LADDERS
IN EMERGENCY ONLY STAND OR WALK UPON LINES OF NAILS OR SCREWS
The contractor’s worker had accidentally walked between two supporting purlins, falling more than six metres onto a concrete floor.
SafeWork charged Austral Bricks for breaching the state’s Work Health and Safety Act, claiming that a wire mesh underneath the roof did not comply with AS/NZS standards and was not a fall prevention device.
In its defence, Austral Bricks proved that it had a job safety and environmental analysis (JSEA) in place for the repair work, where the wire mesh, which had been installed in the 1960s, was not identified as a control measure.
Austral Bricks provided a 12 step contractor management system that required the contractor to complete paperwork for each step of the repair work.
It had also engaged the same plumbing contractor for 17 years, a contractor that NSW District Court Judge Andrew Scotting found was “in a better position … to know and control the risks involved in the work” than Austral Bricks.
“[The contractor] held itself out as being competent, trained and experienced to do that work,” he said.
Moreover, he found that the contractor could have performed the work safely had it followed the warning sign on the roof.
“I am not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that it was reasonably practicable … to have prevented the workers from working on the roof,” the judge said.