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March 2020

Worker suffers fatal injuries after structure tips

Worker suffers fatal injuries after structure tips

Case

DPP v SJ & TA Structural Pty Ltd (2019)

SJ & TA Structural Pty Ltd (SJ & TA) is a manufacturing and construction company involved in steel fabrication at its site in Wodonga. On 18 August 2016, Mr Adrian Heber was moving steel stair frames, together with other employees of SJ & TA, from the factory building to the yard for storage. Each frame was moved by a Franna crane, by placing chains on the balance points on the steel stair frames, and Mr Heber guided the trip.

The first frame was placed on timber dunnage and Mr Heber removed the chains once the frame was placed on the dunnage. Again, dunnage was placed on top of the first frame in order for a second frame to be stacked on it. This process was repeated until a stack of three frames was erected and a new stack was commenced. A new stack was erected and was placed approximately a metre in front of the first stack. While Mr Heber was standing next to the first stack removing chains, the first stack moved because the dunnage failed and the two top steel frames slid forwards, trapping Mr Heber between them and the first frame of the second stack. As a result, Mr Heber was pinned by the second frame of the stack at the pelvis and by the top frame of the stack at the chest. Mr Heber sustained fatal injuries and died at the scene by mechanical asphyxia.

Judgment

SJ & TA entered a guilty plea and the Wodonga County Court imposed a fine of $400,000 for failing to comply with its work health and safety duty under s 21(1) and (2)(a) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic). The Court held that it was reasonably practicable for SJ & TA to provide and maintain systems of work that eliminated the risk by not stacking the frames, or if the frames were stacked, reducing the risk by using sleepers or sufficiently large bearers.

The Court found that:

  • the extent of the departure from the duty owed by SJ & TA to its employees was serious;
  • the extent of the risk to the health and safety thereby created was manifestly clear; and
  • the likelihood of risk of the particular harm resulting was high.

Lessons

Employers should not underestimate the risks of what appears to be a simple job such as stacking goods, and ensure that proper safe systems of work are implemented and enforced to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health.

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