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January 2020

Companies fined $1.5 million after worker death

Companies fined $1.5 million after worker death

DPP v Vibro-Pile (Aust) Pty Ltd (2016)

Facts

On 28 May 2011, an employee of Frankipile died after falling approximately 40 metres when the mast of a piling rig collapsed at a construction site.

Frankipile had been engaged by a builder to undertake piling work associated with the building’s foundations. Frankipile in turn engaged Vibro-Pile, an affiliated company, to operate the piling rig.

The Court heard that a Vibro-Pile employee, who was preparing the piling rig for work, was unfamiliar with its controls and had never installed or been trained in how to install the extension that had to be fitted to the mast. As a result, 10 of the 16 bolts needed to secure the extension were not fitted. Later that day the mast snapped, causing the worker to fall to the ground.

Judgment

At first instance, Vibro-Pile was convicted for failing to provide systems of work that were, so far as reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health, and for failing to provide such information, instruction, training or supervision as was necessary to enable employees to perform work in a way that was safe and without risks to health. Vibro-Pile was convicted and fined $100,000 in total. Frankipile was fined $350,000.

The Director of Public Prosecutions brought an appeal against the sentence on the basis that it was manifestly inadequate. On 24 March 2016, the Supreme Court set aside the original sentence of the County Court and imposed a conviction and fine on Frankipile and Vibro-Pile of $750,000 each.

Lessons

You need to ensure that you undertake a risk assessment of all tasks that pose significant risk to your workers. From that assessment, a safe system of work needs to be developed.

It is critical that only qualified and competent people perform high-risk tasks and that there are procedures in place to ensure that any installation has been properly implemented.

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