SA: Construction companies convicted and fined $750,000 over industrial pile driver fatality

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Friday, 5 February, 2021 - 12:30
Incidents & prosecutions
South Australia

Two companies in South Australia have been fined $750,000 following a worker crushed to death by an industrial pile driver at a Port Augusta solar farm in 2018.

Lightforce Asset Pty Ltd and Civil and Allied Technical Construction Pty Ltd were convicted and fined a total of $750,000 before a statutory 40 per cent discount applied for an early guilty plea.

Civil and Allied Technical Construction Pty Ltd, known as Catcon, was contracted to assist building a solar farm including installing metal piles for solar panels to be placed.

Catcon subcontracted Lightforce Asset Pty Ltd (Lightforce) to supply machinery and a specialist operator for installation of metal piles up to 3.2 metres.

Lightforce sent an experienced operator to Port Augusta with an Orteco hydraulic pile driver.

On 17 February 2018, the operator was using a hydraulic pile driver to drive longer piles than originally designed to be installed by that pile driver. The operator modified the pile driver in order to complete the task by overriding safety mechanisms.

These modifications were made with the knowledge of a supervisor employed by Catcon. Lightforce had no knowledge of the modifications made by the operator to undertake the work required which was outside the agreed scope of works.

After the modifications were made, the hammer jammed. While the operator was inspecting the pile driver, the hammer released and dropped onto the operator, crushing him and causing his death.

SafeWork SA investigations identified that the Catcon supervisor was employed without the skills, knowledge and experience required to effectively identify and manage the risk of safety to the worker when operating the pile driver.

Catcon and Lightforce both pleaded guilty for breaching their health and safety duty under section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA) for exposing a person to risk of serious injury or death.

Each of these offences carried a maximum penalty of $1.5 million, and the South Australian Employment Tribunal convicted Catcon and issued a fine of $450,000 ($750,000 before applying a 40 per cent discount) plus costs.

Lightforce was convicted with a $300,000 fine ($500,000 before 40 per cent discount) plus costs.

“This investigation was a complex and protracted inquiry due to the contracting and subcontracting arrangements,” said SafeWork SA Executive Director, Martyn Campbell. “That said, a high quality and thorough investigation resulted in a strong case to answer.”

Campbell said it is imperative that head contractors manage their sub-contracting parties. Contractors may delegate some responsibility but cannot delegate accountability for their work health and safety duties under the law.

“Taking shortcuts to make machinery fit the task is fraught with risk. Properly assessing risk and getting the right tools for the task is critical. Focusing on critical controls should always be a priority,” said Campbell.

In making the decision, Deputy President Judge Miles Crawley took into account an early plea of guilty from both defendants.

When sentencing, his Honour said he could not accept that the risk of injury was not “self-evident or foreseeable”.