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January 2020

No safety systems in place to prevent fall from height

No safety systems in place to prevent fall from height

SafeWork NSW v Travis Brown (2017)

Facts

An employee of the Travcar Family Trust, trading as Browns Engineering (Travcar) was working from heights in a scissor lift. The employee was screwing into place a roofing sheet when it slipped sideways, exposing a hole in the roof. The employee then fell 2.8 metres, landing on a compressor and then onto the concrete floor. At the time of the incident, the employee had not been equipped with any fall prevention systems.

Judgment

As Travcar operated as a trust, SafeWork NSW prosecuted one of the trustees, Travis Brown. Mr Brown pleaded guilty to failing to comply with his health and safety duty as a person conducting a business or undertaking under s 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW).

At trial, it became apparent that Travcar had unsafe systems of work in place. Workers on scissor lifts were not required to undergo additional safety training before using the equipment. There were no documented systems, policies or procedures for working at heights, either.

Judge Russell also recognised that Travcar’s unsafe practice had been going on for years. Although the incident was unique, it was not a one-off safety failure by the offender. Mr Brown stated he had been performing roofing jobs in the same way for 30 years.

When delivering his sentence, Judge Russell recognised that Mr Brown could have easily engaged a qualified contractor to perform the roofing task for a very reasonable price. This would have eliminated the risk entirely.

Mr Brown’s culpability was found to be in the mid-range. He was fined $80,000 for the breach of safety duty, which was reduced by 25% due to the guilty plea. He was also fined $1,500 for a failure to immediately notify SafeWork NSW of the incident.

Lessons

The lack of any previous incidents or injuries is no excuse for failing to review and update work practices. In this case, employees were performing dangerous tasks without adequate safety precautions.

The successful prosecution in this case should be a reminder for employers to ensure their safe work procedures are up to date, with suitable training policies, procedures and documentation in place.

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