Builder convicted and fined $880,000 over death of apprentice

A Moorabbin building company and its director were yesterday convicted and fined a total of $880,000 over the death of a 21-year-old apprentice at a Caulfield South construction site in August 2013.


Jacbe Builders Pty Ltd and director David Fergusson pleaded guilty in the Melbourne County Court to one charge each under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 for failing to provide and maintain a safe working environment.

The company was fined $700,000 and Mr Fergusson was fined $180,000.

The court heard that the company was engaged to carry out carpentry work at an apartment complex under construction on Hawthorn Rd. After the foundations had been laid at the site and a block wall built to just above the level of the first floor, Mr Fergusson and his apprentice installed first floor trusses and laid the first floor. After this, the block wall was completed up to the second level.

Mr Fergusson and the apprentice returned to the site to begin carpentry work on the second floor. This included installing second floor trusses.

On 22 August, after the second-floor trusses were installed, a load of flooring sheets were delivered to the site and Mr Fergusson instructed a crane driver to lift and place them onto the second-floor trusses.

It was estimated the flooring sheets weighed a total of 1.76 tonnes and, shortly after they were placed on the second floor, the trusses collapsed. They fell on to the first floor and then both floors collapsed to the ground.

Both Mr Fergusson and the apprentice were working on the second floor at the time of the incident. Both fell to the ground. Mr Fergusson suffered a number of injuries but his apprentice was trapped under the debris and died at the scene.

The court heard that the building methods used by the company were a significant departure from acceptable safety standards.

WorkSafe Head of Hazardous Industries and Industry Practice, Michael Coffey, said basic safety failures had caused the tragic loss of a young man’s life.

“The company’s complete failure to ensure work at the site was carried out in a safe way resulted in a young man losing his life for simply doing his job,” Mr Coffey said.

“He put his trust in his boss, and his boss failed him in the worst possible way. And this young man’s family has been left to grieve for a lifetime.”

Mr Coffey said understanding the load bearing capacity of floors under construction was a basic skill.

“Floor collapses can be caused by overloading areas with construction materials, the new floor not being structurally completed, or the structural support elements being inadequate or altered,” Mr Coffey said.

“That is why it is critical that builders ensure the load bearing capacity of floors under construction are known by everyone at the site.

“Workers who are loading materials must be aware of the floor’s limitations, including loading sequence or positioning requirements. This is particularly important when builders or contractors are using cranes to place bulk materials onto a floor or its trusses.”

Mr Coffey said all builders and contractors had to ensure workers on site and members of the public were kept safe.

“Our message to builders is simple – you have the responsibility to make your work site safe and to ensure construction is being done the right way. If you fail to do so, then not only do you risk the future of your business, but you will have to live forever with the fact that you were responsible for your worker’s death or serious injury.”

Construction safety tips:

  • Builders should know the floor’s load bearing capacity and ensure this information is known to everyone on site.
  • Monitor any changes in a floor’s load bearing capacity and inform workers and contractors (including delivery drivers) in an appropriate manner, such as site inductions and prominent signage.
  • If the floor’s load bearing capacity is unknown or the floor or its support structure is damaged, a competent person such as a structural engineer should be consulted to determine its load bearing capacity.