Company fined after trench collapse tragedy

A civil construction company has been convicted and fined $550,000 following the death of two workers after a trench collapse at Ballarat in 2018.
News article published

Friday 12 Nov 2021

Industries and topics
  • Excavating and trenching

Pipecon Pty Ltd was sentenced in the Ballarat County Court today after earlier pleading guilty to a single charge of failing to provide workers with necessary supervision.

The workers were laying pipes at a housing development in the Ballarat suburb of Delacombe in March 2018 when the trench collapsed and they were engulfed.

A 34-year-old man died at the scene while a 21-year-old man died in hospital the following day.

The court heard it was necessary for Pipecon to have reduced the risks to health and safety by providing supervision to ensure workers did not carry out work in the trench unless battering or benching of the excavation was in place and/or trench shields and manhole cages were used.

WorkSafe Executive Director Health and Safety Narelle Beer said the incident has had a significant impact on the community.

"These tragic deaths demonstrated the extreme dangers involved with high-risk construction work and the catastrophic consequences of not making safety the top priority on site," Dr Beer said.

"WorkSafe will continue to take strong enforcement action against those employers who fail to take every reasonable step to protect the health and safety their workers so they can make it home to their families at the end of the day."

To manage trench work risks, 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.
  • Plan work so it can be done safely, including by ensuring appropriate engulfment protection systems and site security requirements are in place.
  • Ensure a competent person, experienced in trenching works, supervises and monitors the work.
  • Ensure workers never work outside engulfment control measures where the excavation is of sufficient dimension or depth to allow the entry of a person.