A construction company has recently been slapped with a giant fine after the death of a worker on a building site, and the sole director of the company, the site manager, has also been personally fined.

The fines serve as yet another reminder why it’s vital for companies and directors alike to have plans and procedures in place when it comes to risks on their work sites.

The worker was a bricklayer, one of the 15 to 20 people who could have been on-site at any time. His death was a result of a fall through an unguarded penetration on the second floor of the building site. Whilst the site could have up to 20 workers on site at any given time, the judge determined that there were approximately four workers who would have been exposed to the risk in the week leading up to the incident.

Despite the fact that neither the company nor its director has accepted responsibility for the failures that led to the bricklayer’s death, they have been fined $425,000 and $85,000 respectively – collectively making this the second biggest fine in NSW history and, unsurprisingly, sending the company out of business.

So what went wrong?

A fine of this magnitude does not get distributed without a clear reason and this case has several. Instead of asking what the company did to receive such a fine, a more accurate question might be “what didn’t they do?”

The company failed to develop a Safe Work Management Statement. The individual in charge of carrying out the high-risk construction work is the best person to prepare a SWMS for their workers but, in this case, no SWMS was prepared. The company did not even have a system in place for reviewing any SWMS or risk assessment submitted to them.

Not only was a SWMS not prepared, but the judge determined that the workers were not even informed of the risk at all. Despite it being a clear risk, workers need to be consulted regarding the risk, and this step did not occur.

Overall, the site manager breached his duty of due diligence and did not act in a responsible manner regarding the risk. The judge found that the site manager was well aware of the risk and had even discussed it with WorkCover. He knew the steps that would need to be taken to secure the penetration and chose to take steps which he knew were inadequate instead.

The company did have a site safety management plan, as well as a OHSE management plan, but these plans were created before the risk appeared and did not account for the risk of a person falling through an insecure penetration.

What can you do to avoid a fine?

  • Communication is key. Make sure that all workers and contractors are informed of the risks. Everyone who enters the work site must have knowledge of the risks.
  • Ensure all the risks are identified as soon as possible – before starting work, if that is achievable.
  • If a risk arises during construction and it has not been accounted for in SWMS, HAC or project risk assessments, make sure these get updated swiftly and that adequate steps are being taken to eliminate that risk.

Take note of this timely reminder that companies and individuals alike can be severely penalised for oversights in areas regarding work health and safety and going out of business is a very real consequence. Can you and your company afford to overlook the risks in your workplace?