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Building company fined $45,000 over worker fall

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Date: 
Wednesday, 1 June, 2022 - 12:15
Category: 
Incidents & prosecutions
Location: 
Western Australia

A building company in Western Australia has been fined $45,000 and ordered to pay $5000 in costs over an incident in which a worker fell approximately three metres through a concealed void at a construction site in Safety Bay.

Alcove Engineering & Construction Pty Ltd pleaded guilty to failing to provide and maintain a safe working environment for a person who was not their employee and was fined in the Rockingham Magistrate’s Court.

Alcove Engineering was engaged as the main building contractor in late 2018 to undertake home renovation work at a property in Safety Bay involving the addition of a second storey.

The company also engaged a number of subcontractors, including a glass company that was to supply and install six double-glazed windows in the upstairs addition, and a carpentry company.

In January 2019, an employee of Alcove Engineering and a carpentry subcontractor went to the site to remove a 2.5-metre square portion of the upper-level mezzanine floor in preparation for the installation of stairs.

When the task was completed, the carpenter told the property owner he would fit an edge protection handrail to the void the next morning, before the expected arrival of glass company workers.

The property owner requested that a tarpaulin be put over the void to stop wind and rain from entering the lower level, and this was done by the carpenter after consultation with Alcove Engineering’s site supervisor.

The ladder leading to the upper level was removed and the carpenter assured the site supervisor he would be back at around 7.00 am to fit the handrail and that no other workers were scheduled to arrive at the property until around 8.30am.

Between 7.00 am and 7.30 am the following morning, three workers from the glass company arrived at the site to fit panes to the windows, accessing the upper floor via the outside scaffolding.

After the glass was brought up via the outside barrow ramp, one of the workers entered the upstairs sitting room and saw the tarpaulin on the floor.

There was no signage or other indication of an opening below, and no railing or other edge protection preventing access to the void.

The worker walked towards an open window in the sitting room and stepped on the tarpaulin, not knowing there was no floor beneath it, and fell around three metres to the concrete floor below.

He suffered severe injuries to his elbow and shoulder. The carpenter arrived at the property shortly after the fall.

WorkSafe WA Commissioner Darren Kavanagh expressed his disappointment with another serious injury resulting from a fall on a construction site.

“A full 14 percent of all work-related fatalities that have occurred in the construction industry since 2012/13 were as the result of a fall from height,” Kavanagh said.

“It was a serious failing that Alcove Engineering’s site supervisor agreed to placing the tarpaulin over the void with no signage or other indication that there was no floor under it.

“It was practicable for the Alcove Engineering subcontractor to have fitted edge protection around the void, prevented all access to the second floor, both inside and outside, or to have erected signage to warn of the hazard.”