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February 2021

A worker is killed after the collapse of brickwork on a construction site

A worker is killed after the collapse of brickwork on a construction site

The Case

SafeWork NSW v WY Constructions Pty Ltd (2020)

WY Constructions Pty Ltd (company) was involved in demolishing a 6-metre brick chimney. The director of the company and three other workers were involved in the demolition.

The incident involved the collapse of the brickwork, which was caused by the workers attempting to push the chimney over by hand. The collapse buried and killed a 48-year-old Chinese immigrant worker on the site. The extent of the deceased’s experience in the construction industry was casual work delivering bricks and mixed cement.

No workers on the site were trained in how to remove the chimney and the director had no understanding of the precautions that were necessary during the demolition.

The Judgment

The company failed to implement a safe work method statement (SWMS) for the demolition and instead allowed untrained, inexperienced and unqualified workers to determine the method of demolition. The appropriate method of demolishing the chimney was to remove successive courses of brickwork from the top of the structure, rather than inducing its collapse. Further, the company failed to protect its workers from an obvious risk of the chimney collapsing.

The company pleaded guilty to breaching sections 19 and 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW) in failing to comply with its primary duty of care, and exposing workers to the risk of death or serious injury.

In addition to the legislative breaches, the District Court of NSW found the company failed to comply with the conditions of a complying development certificate that was issued for the demolition.

The company was sentenced to pay a fine of $300,000, following a 25% reduction for entering a guilty plea.

The Lessons

For any high-risk construction work, you must ensure that an SWMS is prepared and appropriate controls are implemented.

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