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January 2020

Construction company and director fined for failing to exercise due diligence

Construction company and director fined for failing to exercise due diligence

The Case

WorkCover Authority of NSW (Inspector Moore) v E&T Bricklaying Pty Ltd (2016)

Facts

E&T Bricklaying Pty Ltd (E&T), a construction company, was contracted to install besser blocks in a two-storey building. During installation of vertical steel reinforcement bars into the besser block wall, one of its workers suffered an electric shock when a steel bar came into contact with the overhead power lines.

The steel bars were being inserted by the worker from a scaffold erected within 4 metres of power lines. The construction contract did not require E&T to insert the vertical steel bars into the besser blocks. However, after a disagreement with the contractor, the business’s onsite representative directed the worker to insert the vertical steel bars. This was done without an adequate assessment of the risk to the worker’s health and safety.

Judgment

The Court found that:

  • the safe work method statement did not address the nearby power lines;
  • no physical barrier to the power lines was installed;
  • the power lines were not de-energised;
  • the distance between the scaffolding and the power lines was not assessed;
  • the company director did not verify that E&T’s risk assessment identified the risk of making contact with the power lines;
  • the director did not direct the workers to work with the steel bars to minimiserisk; and
  • the director did not ensure that E&T had provided training for workers usingmetal near the power lines.

Both E&T and its director were found guilty and convicted for exposing the worker to a risk of death or serious injury. The director failed to exercise due diligence to ensure that E&T complied with its health and safety duty. E&T was subsequently fined $80,000, and its director was fined $10,000.

Lessons

This decision highlights the need for you to assess the risk of each individual worksite, and any new or additional activities workers may perform. It further highlights your potential personal liability as an employer if you fail to exercise due diligence to ensure your business is complying with its health and safety obligations.

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