Stairwell void fall ends in $80,000 fine and conviction

7 October 2016

A construction company was found guilty by a County Court jury of an incident in which a carpenter survived a fall of almost three metres down an unguarded stairwell void at a construction site in Doncaster in 2011.


Following an 11-day trial, ABD Group Pty Ltd was convicted and fined $80,000 on one count of breaching the 2004 OHS Act in that it failed to ensure the site was safe and without risks to health.

The jury heard that ABD Group Pty Ltd was principal contractor of a major apartment complex being constructed at Doncaster.

On 9 May, 2011, a group of carpenters employed by a sub-contractor were installing flooring on level seven of the complex. They were working in an area next to a stairwell void with a 2.8m drop onto a concrete slab floor below.

One carpenter was using a circular saw to trim flooring overhanging the void when the power cord became unplugged and dropped into the void. As the carpenter went to retrieve the end of the cord, he slipped on saw dust, the excess flooring overhanging the void broke and he fell onto the concrete slab below.

He landed on his right side and suffered internal bruising. 

The court heard that the subcontractor’s Safe Work Method Statement as provided to ABD Group had identified a high risk rating in relation to the installation of flooring and stated that “all penetrations will be securely covered and trimmed out at a later date.”

The jury found that it was reasonably practicable for ABD Group to conduct daily site visits and weekly inspections, as well as direct its subcontractor to install the stairwell void protection before any work was performed within two metres of it.

WorkSafe’s Executive Director Health and Safety, Marnie Williams, said all duty holders, including principal contractors, needed to take responsibility for the safety of everyone on a work site.  

“Safety is everyone’s responsibility,” Ms Williams said. “We know that construction sites are dynamic workplaces with hazards changing from day to day as the site changes. That’s why it’s so important to implement the right safety measures.”

Ms Williams said the carpenter was lucky to have survived the fall with just bruising.

“Every business and individual involved with work at a site has a responsibility to ensure work is carried out safely,” she said.

“Principal contractors are responsible for the safe management of a worksite and failing to ensure appropriate safety measures are in place is how people get seriously injured or killed at work.”

“This incident could have been prevented by simply installing the void protection before the work commenced.”

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