Builder convicted after fall leaves subcontractor with broken spine

22 June 2016

An Ocean Grove builder was today convicted and fined $25,000 over an incident in which a plasterer suffered severe spinal injuries and a fractured skull after falling more than two metres from a work platform.   

Vand Builders Pty Ltd pleaded guilty in the Geelong Magistrates Court to one count of breaching the OHS Act 2004 for failing to ensure that persons other than its employees were not placed at risk. It was also ordered to pay $4000 in costs.

The court heard that in 2015 the company was contracted to build two adjoining double-storey townhouses at Ocean Grove on the Bellarine Peninsula. As part of the project, it engaged Precision Plastering Pty Ltd to undertake plastering work.

On 8 September 2015, more than 40 sheets of plaster were delivered to the site by truck. When the truck became bogged it was agreed that the sheets would be unloaded by two workers on the ground, who would pass them up to two workers on a work platform made of steel scaffolding. The sheets would then be passed to three workers standing on a second-floor balcony so they could be taken inside.

The court was told that the platform was about 2.1m above the ground and about 1m from the side of the townhouse. It had no protective guard rails.

A subcontractor for Precision Plastering who was to be working on the platform requested some form of fall protection. Vand Builders added a piece of frame to one side of the platform but left the other three sides without protection.

The work got under way until the four largest sheets remained, measuring 1.35m by 4.8m and weighing about 40kg.

As one of the sheets was being moved, it snapped and the subcontractor fell through the gap between the platform and the townhouse. He landed on his head, fracturing his skull and breaking his spine. 

The court heard that while the builder had a Safe Work Method Statement, which was a requirement for all high risk construction work, the work had not been performed in accordance with the statement.

In his Victim Impact Statement, which was read to the court today, the subcontractor said the fall had left him with a range of physical and emotional problems. He said he needed crutches to move and a wheelchair for longer distances, and struggled to engage in the family’s social activities. He had five children under the age of 12 and was no longer involved in their sporting events due to mobility and anxiety issues.

“I have no sense of pride any more, struggling to get my head around the fact that I have a permanent disability for the rest of my life,” he said in his statement.

WorkSafe Executive Director Health and Safety, Marnie Williams, said the man’s life had been changed forever because Vand Builders had not made safety a priority.

“The company had prepared a Safe Work Method Statement but had failed to follow it, and the result has been devastating for this man and his family,” Ms Williams said.

“Falls from heights are among the most frequent causes of death and serious injury in the construction sector. That is why Safe Work Method Statements are required. But they are not worth the paper they are written on if they are not adhered to.”

Ms Williams said the fact that the worker had to make a request to the company to employ basic safety measures on the platform was staggering.

“Working from heights is a real risk unless appropriate fall protection measures are in place. In this case, guard rails and edge protection should have been provided for all sides of the work platform where there was a risk of a fall,” she said.

“Every single business in Victoria is required to ensure the work that they are undertaking does not put workers at risk. On this measure the company failed completely.”

Precision Plastering has also been charged over the incident and will face court at a later date.

View all the latest news on VWA's dedicated news website