WorkSafe Victoria v ABD Group Pty Ltd (2016)
In May 2011, the construction company ABD Group was the principal contractor for building an apartment. At the time, there were various carpenters employed by a sub-contractor undertaking carpentry works, specifically installing particle flooring to joists.
The sub-contractor’s Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) identified the flooring work to be high risk, and stated that “all penetrations will be securely covered and trimmed out at a later date.” These works were carried out on level seven of the complex, while levels one to six were constructed with suspended concrete slabs. This left an unprotected stairwell void where the carpenters were working.
A carpenter using a circular saw to trim flooring overhanging the stairwell void, slipped and fell into the void while trying to retrieve an unplugged power cord. The worker fell 2.8 metres onto the concrete floor, landing on his right side without hitting his head, suffering internal bruising but no broken bones.
The Court found there was a risk of serious injury or death from a fall from height, being 2.8 metres onto a concrete slab, because of the absence of any stairwell void protection. The Court therefore determined that ABD Group had failed to ensure stairwell void protection was installed by the sub-contractor.
ABD Group was found guilty by the jury, after concluding that it was reasonable to expect ABD Group to conduct daily site visits and weekly inspections, in addition to directing its subcontractor to install the stairwell void protection before any work was undertaken within 2 metres of it.
ABD Group was convicted and sentenced to pay a fine of $80,000.
This case is a reminder that all duty-holders, including principal contractors, are responsible for the safety of all persons at a work site. Employers should ensure sites remain safe and without risks to health and safety by making sure that regular site visits and inspections are undertaken, and that any structure required to prevent workers from falling are installed prior to the construction work being carried out.
Employers should be careful to take note of the relevant SWMSs and ensure they are strictly adhered to.