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January 2020

Inexperienced worker injured in high-risk task

Inexperienced worker injured in high-risk task

SafeWork NSW v Hydro Clean (Griffith) Pty Ltd (2017)

Facts

Hydro Clean (Griffith) Pty Ltd (Company) pleaded guilty under s 19 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 after failing to comply with its duty and thereby exposing an employee to a risk of death or serious injury. The injured employee, who was tasked with dogging on a demolition site, was a 24-year-old apprentice with no qualifications in rigging or dogging. He also had minimal experience in rigging and had not received any training from the Company.

Dogging consists of directing a hoist or crane operator who is moving a load, when the load is out of the operator’s view.

Rigging involves lifting, moving and transporting, positioning, pulling and securing of heavy equipment, machines and oversized loads, using hoists, cranes and pulleys.

The incident occurred during a dogging job on a demolition site where columns were lifted by cranes using chains. These columns were secured on platforms and workers were standing on these platforms. On the day of the incident, the crane lifted the column, causing the chains to slide and making the column unstable. The column then fell, hitting a worker and causing others to fall off the platform.

Judgment

The SafeWork NSW investigation confirmed there were serious inadequacies with the Company’s operations. SafeWork NSW found this task should only have been operated by qualified workers holding high-risk work licences or other qualifications in dogging or rigging. Additionally, there were no tag lines in place at the incident. The instructions given for performing the lifting job were also found to be inadequate.

The District Court noted the Company’s inability to follow the available guidance material. The WorkCover NSW’s Rigging Guide, dated 1995, was still in operation at the time of the incident. The guide required demolition rigging sites to have various control measures in place. The Work Health and Safety Regulations 2011 also stated high-risk work should not be carried out by someone unless they had a licence for that kind of work.

The considerations above led District Court Judge Russell to conclude it was reasonably practicable, given the circumstances, for the Company to ensure the health and safety of the worker. Even the cost of overcoming the risk was held to be negligible. The Company consequently received a reduced fine of $120,000. It was also ordered to pay $32,500 for the prosecutor’s costs.

Lessons

This case is a clear reminder that companies must ensure that they keep up to date and apply the practical guidance set out in Codes of Practice and Guides published by safety regulators on how to avoid risks. As there is a high-risk work licence scheme in operation and the regulations included rigging as high-risk work, companies must ensure only licensed workers perform high-risk work.

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