Company fined $360,000 after worker’s fatal trench 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.
Tuesday, 21 September, 2021 - 12:00
Incidents & prosecutions

An excavation company in Victoria has been convicted and fined $360,000 following the death of a worker who fell into a trench at a Wallan housing development site.

Crowley Excavation Pty Ltd was sentenced in the Melbourne County Court after pleading guilty to a charge of failing to provide a safe workplace.

The court heard the company was installing sewers at the site, which involved digging a deep trench. The worker was required to stand near the unprotected edge of the trench to hook and unhook lifting chains to a trench shield.

On 16 August 2018, the worker suffered fatal injuries after falling six metres into the trench while moving a trench shield.

A WorkSafe investigation found the company could have taken reasonably practicable steps to reduce the risk of a fall, such as:

  • Using a walkway and ladder to approach the trench shield.
  • Removing the need to attach and re-attach chains by using longer chains or separate chains for each shield.
  • Using visual safety reminders near the edge of the trench.

WorkSafe Victoria executive director of health and safety Andrew Keen said falls from height are a leading cause of death and serious injury in Victorian workplaces.

“This death is a tragedy that should have been avoided and a heartbreaking reminder of the consequences of not prioritising safety,” Keen said.

“The risks of falling from a height while working around trenches, and the controls that duty holders can put in place to reduce these risks, are well-known in the industry.”