Company fined $360,000 after worker's fatal trench fall

An excavation company has been convicted and fined $360,000 following the death of a worker who fell into a trench at a Wallan housing development site.
News article published

Wednesday 15 Sep 2021

Industries and topics
  • Construction
  • Excavating and trenching

Crowley Excavation Pty Ltd was sentenced in the Melbourne County Court last Thursday after pleading guilty to a charge of failing to provide a safe workplace.

The court heard the company was installing sewers at the site, which involved digging a deep trench. The worker was required to stand near the unprotected edge of the trench to hook and unhook lifting chains to a trench shield.

On 16 August 2018, the worker suffered fatal injuries after falling six metres into the trench while moving a trench shield.

A WorkSafe investigation found the company could have taken reasonably practicable steps to reduce the risk of a fall, such as:

  • Using a walkway and ladder to approach the trench shield.
  • Removing the need to attach and re-attach chains by using longer chains or separate chains for each shield.
  • Using visual safety reminders near the edge of the trench.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Andrew Keen said falls from height are a leading cause of death and serious injury in Victorian workplaces.

"This death is a tragedy that should have been avoided and a heartbreaking reminder of the consequences of not prioritising safety," Mr Keen said.

"The risks of falling from a height while working around trenches, and the controls that duty holders can put in place to reduce these risks, are well-known in the industry," he said.

"WorkSafe won't hesitate to prosecute duty holders who fail to do everything they reasonably can to keep workplaces safe."

To manage the risks of a fall into a trench, duty holders should:

  • Ensure a safe work method statement (SWMS) is developed, and followed, for high risk construction work, such as when the trench depth is more than 1.5 metres or powered mobile plant is involved.
  • Develop an emergency response plan (ERP) to deal with potential incidents.
  • Ensure workers are instructed on the ERP and SWMS and follow them.
  • Ensure the risks of a fall into the trench is controlled, for example by:
    • Removing the need to attach and re-attach chains by using longer chains or separate chains for each shield.
    • Using trench box extensions or trench sheets.
    • Installing guard rails or covers on trench shields.
    • Inserting guard rails and toe boards into the ground immediately next to the supported excavation side.
    • Installing landing platforms or access structures such as scaffold towers inside deep excavations.
    • Installing effective barriers or barricades.
    • Providing clearly defined pedestrian detours.
    • Fencing around excavations or trench shields.