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January 2020

Risk of fall should have been foreseen

Risk of fall should have been foreseen

SafeWork (NSW) v Schaefer Systems International P/L (2016)

Facts

Schaefer Systems International (Company) provides industrial storage systems. The company was engaged by a client to extend the existing industrial storage system by adding a third tier level. The company then engaged a contractor, Sundance Racking, to install the third tier.

The tier installation platform was 2.4 metres above the flooring of the first mezzanine level and 6 metres above the ground. The installation platform had an unguarded edge and voids. Plans were made to install permanent handrails after floor panels had been laid. A safety policy, safe work procedures and Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) were produced by Sundance and provided to the company. No changes were made.

Sundance subsequently obtained a labourer, Mr Lewis, through an independent labour hire business. Mr Lewis was installing the floor panels on the third tier level and fell six metres to the concrete floor below. He had no prior experience in installing storage systems.

Judgment

The Court found that although Sundance had day-to-day control over the activities of installing the new level, Schaefer failed to take a number of reasonably practicable steps including:

  • requiring Sundance (and other contractors) to have a safety management plan as well as a SWMS;
  • to require its supervisors to complete a workplace inspection checklist to ensure that Sundance and other contractors were complying with the SWMS and safety management plan.

When assessing the appropriate sentence, the Court took into account:

  • the risk of Mr Lewis failing from the height of installation was foreseeable; and
  • simple remedial steps were available that could have minimised or eliminated the risk (i.e. use of temporary handrails).

The Court imposed a fine of $120,000. This was reduced by applying a 20% discount rate given the plea of guilty.

Lessons

When engaging contractors, businesses must take all reasonably practicable steps to ensure that they are complying with the safety processes. A business does not need to supervise the work of the contractor, but it must ensure that the contractor has appropriate safety management plans and SWMSs and that these are audited by the business during the course of the project.

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