WA: roofing company fined $450,000 over serious fall injury

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.
Wednesday, 18 August, 2021 - 12:30
Incidents & prosecutions
Western Australia

A roofing company in WA has been fined $450,000 and ordered to pay $3056 in costs after a roof plumber fell through a penetration on the construction site of the new Perth Museum.

Charman Australia Pty Ltd pleaded guilty to failing to provide and maintain a safe workplace and, by that failure, causing serious harm to an employee, and was recently fined in the Perth Magistrates Court.

Charman is one of the first companies to be prosecuted and fined under the regime of stronger penalties for breaches of workplace safety laws introduced in October 2018.

In April 2019, Charman had been subcontracted to install roofing at the construction site, a large and complex project involving the integration of heritage-listed buildings and a new building.

On the day of the incident, one of the several roof plumbers on the site had removed the cover from a penetration in the roof in order to install sarking (waterproof material used to stop moisture entering the building), creating an open space of around 60x60 cm.

The sarking was taped down, but the compressed fibre cement cover was not replaced before the roof plumber began a conversation with his supervisor.

Another roof plumber joined the discussion before the first roof plumber and the supervisor walked away to attend to another work task. The second roof plumber stepped onto the sarking covering the penetration and fell almost seven metres onto the concrete floor below.

He suffered a fractured shoulder and leg, which resulted in two internal fixation surgeries, three weeks in hospital and subsequent extensive occupational therapy, physical therapy and medical treatment. He was certified unfit to work for 13 months.

Charman had signed a Safe Work Method Statement then proceeded to ignore it, said WorkSafe WA commissioner Darren Kavanagh.

“This company had identified the fall hazards associated with this job and had approved the control measures to be used, including using fall injury prevention or restraint systems where there were open penetrations,” he said.

“But the roof plumbers were not instructed to use a fall injury prevention system prior to undertaking work on the day of this incident, so none was in place despite the fact that they were required to have a system in place whenever there was a penetration larger than 20x 20cm.

“All the equipment necessary to create a suitable fall injury prevention system was on site, along with a licenced rigger with specific expertise in creating these systems, and all roof plumbers had access to safety harnesses on site.

“Despite having controls available, no system was in place and this worker had a devastating fall and was unable to work for an extended period of time after suffering serious and long-term injuries.

“It was entirely practicable for the employer to have ensured that the roof plumbers used an adequate fall injury prevention system while undertaking work that involved removing the cover of a penetration.

“This company is one of the first to be prosecuted under the new penalty regime introduced by the State Government in October 2018 that provides for increased penalties for breaches of workplace safety and health laws – in this case, a maximum fine of $2 million.”