Builder fined $300,000 after wall collapse kills carpenter

15 June 2016

A builder was yesterday convicted and fined $300,000 in the County Court over an incident in which a carpenter died after being crushed by a brick wall on a construction site at Brighton East.

Bilic Homes Pty Ltd pleaded guilty to one count of breaching the 2004 OHS Act by failing to maintain a safe workplace.

The court heard that the incident took place in June 2014 during the construction of two units on a site in Elizabeth Street.

The court was told that the company ordered bricklayers to build the footings and two brick veneer boundary walls of the rear unit, although the subfloor and frame had yet to be built. Building the subfloor and frame first was standard building practice because this allowed exterior cladding, such as brickwork, to be supported.

The southern boundary wall, which was 2.89m high, was built first without incident. The northern wall, which was 2.7m tall and 7.47m long, took two days to build. The brickwork was finished on 13 June.

At the time the boundary walls were completed, there was still no frame in place on the rear unit, and the stump holes had not been dug to allow the sub-floor to be laid. The walls were not braced externally because the company had not sought access from the neighbouring properties, and there was no interior bracing because an excavator was due to come on the site to dig the stump holes.

The court was told that although the company had ordered the walls to be built outside the normal sequence of construction, the need to brace the walls was never discussed with the bricklayers.

It had also not consulted the contracted engineers for any guidance or documentation associated with the temporary bracing of masonry walls, the leaving of a wall unsupported or an alternative construction system.

On 23 June, there was a forecast of severe weather for the bayside area, including strong winds.  The carpenter was one of two working on site and, following a discussion with the company owner about the weather, it was agreed that the safest option for both carpenters was to work on the floor of the rear unit.

A short time later, the carpenter was working close to the northern wall while the other was assisting by bringing sheets of flooring to him from a central stack.

After leaving a sheet, the second carpenter had turned and taken three steps away from the area when he heard a loud noise like a strong gust of wind.  When he turned back, he saw that the brick wall had collapsed on his work mate.

WorkSafe Executive Director Health and Safety, Marnie Williams, said the incident was a tragedy that should never have happened.

"This incident could have been prevented had the employer followed the proper standards and ensured that the wall was braced,” Ms Williams said.

“Instead it was left unsupported and unstable, endangering the safety of every worker at the site.”

Ms Williams said the company had failed to coordinate the order of construction activities so that adequate structural support was provided for the wall as it increased in height.

“Ideally, the wall frame should have been built first – or at least along with the building of the wall - and the brickwork tied into the frame using access from the neighbouring property,” she said.

“While more time consuming, the brickwork could have been tied in to the building structure by building the boundary wall to a safe height of 1.5m, erecting the timber frame, and then completing the remainder of the wall.

“Instead, after making the decision to build the wall first, the company failed to issue clear instructions about the need for bracing, and how it was to be carried out in a safe manner.

“People go to work with the expectation of getting home safely at the end of the day and tragically this incident has taken that away from this young man and his family.” 

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