Company fined $350,000 after death of client’s son

A Carrum Downs concreting contractor has been convicted and fined $350,000 after the son of a client died while using the company’s earthmoving equipment.


Phelpsys Constructions Pty Ltd pleaded guilty to one charge of breaching the Occupational Health and Safety Act, in that it failed to ensure a workplace under its management and control was safe and without risks to health.

The Melbourne County Court heard that in June 2015, Phelpsys Constructions was engaged to perform earthmoving and landscaping works with a skid steer at a Carrum Downs residence.

After finishing work for the day on 9 June, the site supervisor left the skid steer in the client’s garage, with the keys in the machine, intending to collect it two days later.

The court was told that on 11 June, the client’s 37-year-old son drove the skid steer out of the garage, telling his father he would use it to level the nature strip.

He was later found with head injuries in the operator’s seat. The safety bar was not in position, the machine was bogged in the nature strip with the wheels spinning and the bucket raised. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The court was told the condition of the skid steer was such that it was not safe to be used even by an experienced operator. It heard that the skid steer was not given a mechanical inspection when it was purchased in 2014 and had never been serviced.

WorkSafe Acting Executive Director Health and Safety, Paul Fowler, said Phelpsys failed in its responsibility to ensure the public was not at risk by preventing anyone from operating its plant and equipment.

“Employers have a duty of care not just to their own workers, but to the general public as well,” Mr Fowler said.

“Even though the incident occurred at the client’s home, it is still considered a workplace and Phelpsys had a duty to ensure it was safe and without risk.”

“In this case, by leaving the keys in the machine, and not securing the area in which it was located, there was nothing to stop anyone from attempting to operate the skid steer. Tragically, someone lost their life as a result.”

Mr Fowler said the case was a tragic reminder to anyone owning or operating plant, that it must be periodically inspected and maintained by a qualified person in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.

“Failure to do this places lives in danger as we have seen here,” Mr Fowler said.

Tips for securing mobile powered plant

An employer or self-employed person must ensure that any plant not in use is left in a state which does not create a risk, so far as is practicable, for any person.

This includes ensuring:

  • the plant is located or guarded to prevent unintentional activation
  • the plant has been parked on a firm level surface
  • the handbrake is applied
  • the motor switched off
  • they key is removed.