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Date PostedApril 27, 2012

White Card Update: Worker Falls to His Death – Company Receives Maximum Fine

Construction company, John Holland received a maximum fine after a worker well over 10 meters after stepping on an unsecured grid mesh which resulted in his death.

The company had ignored 2 previous incidents which resulted in workers being injured. The third incident was the fatal one, which led to the death of worker Wayne Moore. 

WorkplaceOHS.com had this to say:

Construction giant John Holland has been fined a maximum $242,000 for failing to eliminate a safety risk that resulted in a workplace fatality. The fine is the maximum civil penalty for a breach of the general duty of care requirements of the Commonwealth Occupational Health and Safety Act 1991 by a body corporate.

 In December 2010, Comcare initiated civil proceedings in the Federal Court (Perth Registry) against both John Holland Pty Ltd and John Holland Group Pty Ltd in relation to three separate incidents involving unsecured grid mesh falling from structures.

 No-one was injured in the first two ‘near-miss’ incidents on 12 and 18 March 2009. However, 45-year-old Wayne Moore sustained fatal injuries on 19 March 2009 when he stepped onto an unsecured sheet of grid mesh and fell ten metres to the floor below at the Mt Whaleback facility in the Pilbara. At the time of the Near Misses and the Fatal Incident, John Holland was a construction contractor on the facility, which is operated by BHP Billiton Iron Ore.

Source: http://www.workplaceohs.com.au/NewsDetail.asp?ID=30174

According to reports inadequate supervision and procedures was to blame for the incident. Investigators found employers had not followed correct safety procedures.

Comcare was called in to investigate the incident and found that the company had neglected procedures relating to laying of grid mesh, handover procedures, barricading and signage procedures and  incident reporting procedures . Both supervisors and the company had failed to  implement the correct procedures and did not align their practices with acceptable Australian Standards.

 The report by WorkplaceOHS.com.au goes on to state:

On 19 April 2012, John Holland Pty Ltd made an admission of liability. Subsequently, a pecuniary penalty was imposed by the Federal Court, which ruled that the company had failed to take all reasonably practicable steps to protect the health and safety at work of its workers.

 The matter as it relates to John Holland Group Pty Ltd has been adjourned to late 2013 to enable the John Holland entities to perform commitments under an enforceable undertaking accepted by Comcare.

This undertaking requires both employers to implement better safety practices in their operations across the country. They are also required to share these improvements with the construction industry, including through the Federal Safety Commissioner.

Source: http://www.workplaceohs.com.au/NewsDetail.asp?ID=30174

 This case serves as a warning to other construction companies to be aware of the strict penalties for neglecting OHS Laws.  News laws have been introduced as of January 2012, which impose even harsher penalties on negligent employers.

Though a lack of fall protection seems to be a common occurrence on construction sites, employers need to ensure workers are properly trained to recognise and avoid fall hazards.  In this incident the employer was aware of the dangers associated with the hazard, however the employer and supervisors failed to take the proper steps to eliminate or reduce the risk involved.

Employers have both a legal and moral obligation to ensure that every reasonable attempt is made to ensure the safety of their workers on site.   Employers also need to look at near misses as a warning and an opportunity to improve their safety procedures.  Had John Holland paid greater attention to the 2 incidents that occurred prior to this one, the fatality may have been prevented as all the incidents involved unsecured grid mesh.

A Few Safety Tips to Prevent Falls:

  • Use the highest level of falls prevention measures such as guard railing, physical barrier or perimeter scaffolding.
  • Remove unwanted material and construction waste regularly from site so it does not accumulate.
  • Ensure construction materials, power leads, tools and equipment are handled and positioned carefully to avoid tripping hazards.
  • Also fit protective caps to the end of all thread droppers and exposed rebar.
  • Ensure OHS induction and ongoing safety training
  • Inform workers of all hazards, even if they seem obvious.
  • Make sure workers know how to report unsafe conditions and feel comfortable in doing so.
  • Discuss potential hazards and point them out to workers.
  • Explain safe work practices that are in place to eliminate or reduce hazards, such as personal protective equipment.
  • Question workers to ensure they understand procedures and encourage them to ask questions or raise issues they are not comfortable with.

Peter Cutforth is a Director at Urban E-Learning, a global elearning and web strategy firm based in George St Brisbane. Peter's interests extend to training, safety and compliance, online marketing, and Mobile Apps.

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