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January 2020

Small company receives large penalty for safety breach

Small company receives large penalty for safety breach

WHS Qld v Skyhook Roof Access Systems Pty Ltd (2017)

Facts

Skyhook Roof Access Systems Pty Ltd (Company) installed, maintained and inspected working at height fall arrest anchorage systems. The Company had installed an anchorage system on a building at an aged care facility. It was providing refresher training to a 53-year-old maintenance worker employed by the age care facility. The Company brought a ladder to the site but it was too short to allow safe access and it had not been properly secured to prevent dislodging. However, the maintenance worker climbed this ladder and subsequently fell 6 metres, resulting in paraplegia.

Judgment

The Court heard that the Company had no risk assessment or safe work method statement prepared for working at heights. The Wynnum Magistrates Court found the Company breached its duty under the Work Health Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act) and imposed a $150,000 fine. The Magistrate rejected a submission that the worker held some responsibility by accessing the roof for the training because, in doing so, he disobeyed a work instruction from his own employer not to work at height.

In a separate judgement, the director was successfully prosecuted for breaching his duty of due diligence under the WHS Act and was personally fined $25,000 plus court costs.

Lessons

The Company’s fine was significant and reflected the seriousness of the offence. In making the decision, the Magistrate stressed that the fine was not based on the injuries sustained, but the Company’s and directors’ persistent failure to discharge their duty of care. The Company received this level of fine even though it was a very small business, had no prior offences and had entered an early guilty plea.

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