A head contractor and subcontractor in New South Wales have been fined for an appalling safety breach which saw two workers fall four meters onto concrete after being forced to use an upside-down excavator bucket as a lifting platform without having fall protection.

In its latest judgement, the District Court of NSW has issued a fine of $180,000 against commercial and industrial building company Apex Building Systems Pty Ltd over an incident which occurred at a  site in Sydney’s outer-western suburb of Vineyard for which the company was the head contractor.

This follows an earlier decision in which subcontractor Greater Civil Pty Ltd was fined $618,000 over the same incident.

The incident happened on August 21, 2019, when Greater Civil was demolishing a single-storey metal framed building on site.

Two workers were told to get into the bucket of an excavator which had been attached upside down to the plant machine for use as a work platform.

The pair were lifted about four metres to dismantle a roof and frame. However, the bucket detached and the workers fell onto concrete below.

One man suffered serious injuries and was taken to hospital with fractures to his back and neck.

The workers had not been provided with fall protection.

The subcontractor also failed to immediately notify Safe Work NSW about the incident despite being obliged to do so.

The latest judgement comes as working at heights has long been recognised as one of the most significant risk areas when working in construction.

According to guidance from Safe Work NSW, strategies to reduce working at height hazards can include working on the ground or on solid construction where possible; using fall-prevention devices such as temporary work platforms, guardrails and scaffolding; using work positioning systems; or using fall arrest systems.

In a statement, SafeWork NSW CEO Natasha Mann acknowledged that Apex has improved its safety practices and compliance since the incident.

The company has introduced an online safety system and now requires contractors to provide safe work method statements before entering sites.

(Prior to the incident, Apex – which employs around 20 mostly long-term workers – had not had any notifiable incidents on its sites throughout 34 years of operation.)

But she said the incident was nonetheless shocking.

“Apex Building Systems was obligated to identify hazards and risks on the site before work began but did not complete this assessment for the demolition works,” Mann said.

“Apex admitted to failing this obligation which put the two workers at risk of serious injury and death.

“Worksites are full of danger and these risks must be managed especially when demolition work is carried out, particularly and at heights.”

The judgement comes as the NSW Government is ramping up efforts to improve workplace safety and building quality on construction sites.

This week, inspectors from NSW Fair Trading and SafeWork NSW will conduct a number of inspections targeting building quality and workplace safety in the Illawarra region.

From a safety viewpoint, the blitz will target high risk concerns associated with working at heights, electrical work, moving plant, structural safety and dust disease.

Matt Press, Executive Director Compliance at NSW Fair Trading says the visits are an example of the construction industry being held to account for workplace safety and building quality.

“Builders need to understand that serious injury and death is not an acceptable part of getting the job done and when consumers are making one of life’s biggest investments we expect high standards of work,” Press said.

“NSW Fair Trading Inspectors will verify if tradespeople are licensed appropriately and will audit buildings for non-compliance or early signs of major defects.

“All developments are expected to be built to the same high standards whether it is in a regional town or big city.”


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