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January 2020

Cavalier attitude to health and safety results in serious injury

Cavalier attitude to health and safety results in serious injury

SafeWork NSW v MJM Painting Services Pty Limited; SafeWork NSW v Miro Maric (2019)

Facts

A developer engaged MJM Painting Services Pty Limited (MJM) to provide painting and decorating services at a high-rise residential construction site. Miro Maric was an officer of MJM. There were several contractors working on the site, including a company engaged to erect and maintain a formwork perimeter system to manage the risks of working from heights. MJM also engaged a sole trader to complete painting works.

The developer held a safety meeting to express its concern over the unprotected gaps on the higher levels of the worksite as the formwork perimeter system did not comply with Australian Standards. Following this safety meeting, all contractors were required to instruct their workers to not work unless a static line had been installed and workers used harnesses.

Despite this instruction, Miro Maric did not inform the sole trader of the new safety requirements. However, he did instruct the sole trader to continue working the next day. The sole trader then commenced work without any knowledge of the unsafe working conditions identified by the developer. The sole trader stepped onto a piece of plywood that then gave way, causing him to fall two levels and suffer extensive injuries.

Judgment

MJM and Miro Maric both pleaded guilty to breaches of their health and safety duty. The Court found MJM and Miro Maric held a high level of culpability for the workplace accident. As the work was performed in a high-rise construction site, the risk was foreseeable and the methods to reduce this risk were available and not expensive. The Court found that it was “common sense” that people working at height are at risk of falling unless there is something that intervenes to prevent it.

The Court acknowledged that there were multiple contractors on the site and that MJM did not have control over the work platforms where the incident occurred. However, the Court determined that MJM did have control over its workers. Directing the sole trader to stop work until they complied with the safety requirements was a cheap and effective method to reduce risk.

MJM was fined $187,500 and Miro Maric was fined $37,000, with both fines reduced 25% after a guilty plea.

Lessons

The fines received by both MJM and Miro Maric highlight the Court’s stance against entities that adopt what the Court described as a “cavalier attitude” to workplace health and safety. The risks involved in this incident were described as “obvious, glaringly so”.

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