Altered design and overloading contributed to Prahran scaffold collapse

A company which pleaded guilty to two workplace safety charges which led to the collapse of a scaffold in Prahran in 2009 has been convicted and fined $170,000.
News article published

Friday 23 Mar 2012

Industries and topics
  • Construction
  • Scaffolding

In sentencing Asian Pacific Building Corporation Pty Ltd today, Magistrate Jan Maclean found the structure was overloaded with bricks and that the design was changed without reference to the designers or a qualified engineer.

The scaffold collapsed onto Commercial Road, Prahran in February 2009, yet resulted in only three injuries, but seriously damaged parked vehicles, brought down tram and powerlines and blocked Commercial Road for several days.

CCTV footage tendered in evidence showed a bus, a pedestrian and two bicycles passing the scaffold moments before it came down.

Magistrate Maclean also ordered Asian Pacific Building Corporation Pty Ltd to pay prosecution costs of $4766.87.

She said that while the company had undergone a cultural shift since the incident, the safety breaches were grave and that it could not be said to have been a momentary or transitory lapse in its system.

Although the original design did comply with Australian Standards, WorkSafe’s investigation found the scaffolding that remained standing after the incident had missing or damaged components and in places was severely overloaded.

Outside the court, the acting-Director of WorkSafe’s Construction and Utilities Division, Allan Beacom said the collapse had the potential to cause multiple deaths and was Victoria’s worst-ever scaffold collapse.

“It is incredible that this incident did not result in multiple fatalities.

“The site workers were on their morning ‘smoko’ break and it is just good luck that a tram, bus or other vehicles were not directly under it.

It was just luck that only a few workers were on the scaffolding at the time.

These included three bricklayers who were working on level four when the scaffold fell and were injured as a result.

One of them fell to the street along with the scaffolding and required plastic surgery on his finger and also received cuts and bruises to his head.

A second suffered whiplash, cuts and bruises while a third man was hit by scaffolding as it collapsed. He sustained broken ribs, a punctured lung, a fractured right collarbone, broken bones in his neck and chipped bones near his spine.

“It is not uncommon for small changes to be made to scaffolds as work proceeds, but any change must be reinstated as quickly as possible. Unfortunately scaffold collapses are not uncommon.

“Thankfully there were relatively few injuries in this incident, but it shows what can happen where safety issues are not addressed and management control is not maintained,” Mr Beacom said.

Magistrate Maclean was told Asian Pacific had management and control of the site and contracted a scaffolding company to provide and build scaffolding while a third company provided and laid bricks.

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the employees of the other companies on the Site were deemed to be employees of Asian Pacific.

Bricks were loaded onto the scaffold, and while the original design allowed for 675kg per bay, WorkSafe’s investigation found loads up to three times this were on some bays that had not fallen and that the loads were not evenly distributed.

The bricklaying company, EGI Bricklaying Pty Ltd, was convicted and fined $100,000 in November 2011 in relation to the overloading with costs ordered against them in the amount of $3,693.52. It was not alleged that the overloading caused the collapse.

Charges against a third company, SMS Scaffolding Pty Ltd, are yet to be heard.

The charges against Asian Pacific Building Corporation Pty Ltd

Sections 21(1) & (2)(a) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004. This section refers to the company’s requirement as an employer to provide or maintain plant or systems of work that was so far as was reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health.

Section 23 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 refers to the obligation of employers, so far as is reasonably practicable, to ensure that persons other than employees, (e.g pedestrians, motorists in the streets surrounding the worksite and/or non-employees working at the worksite) were not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the conduct of the undertaking of Asian Pacific.