K1 Homes ID Pty Ltd this week pleaded guilty in the Melbourne Magistrates' Court to two charges under section 26 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 of failing to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, that the workplace was safe and without risks to health and safety.
The offences occurred during the construction of multi-level townhouses on Brunswick Road, Brunswick.
The court heard that on 29 January 2019 the company was issued five improvement notices from WorkSafe inspectors, including for failing to control the risk of a fall from height. At the time, inspectors noted that unassembled scaffolding was present at the site.
Despite regular follow-up inspections, it was almost five months later before WorkSafe was satisfied that the improvement notices had been complied with.
On 23 September 2019, a WorkSafe inspector again attended the workplace and observed a worker working at height with no fall protection in place and issued a prohibition notice that prevented access to the area until fall protection was installed.
On 19 June 2020, a WorkSafe inspector again observed workers at the site working at height without fall protection.
Nine new improvement notices were issued, including two which related to a failure to control risks associated with falls from height and one in relation to the risk of electrocution, with multiple power leads piggybacking and exceeding 35 metres in total length. The leads were also hanging off structures and laying in water.
In sentencing the offender, the court stated that the absence of any injuries did not mitigate the gravity of the offending.
The court found that although no-one was injured, the risks associated with falls from height and electrocution should be obvious to any builder and the safety issues were ongoing for 18-months.
So far in 2022, fines totalling $727,500 have been imposed against companies and directors in 22 WorkSafe prosecutions for failing to protect workers from the dangers of working from height.
WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said workplace deaths and injuries from falls from height were far too common.
"WorkSafe inspectors are proactively targeting building sites across the state, with strong attention being paid to fall prevention practices," Dr Beer said.
"In July this year, three tradespeople in three days fell from a height, which underscores just how important it is to have the necessary precautions in place."
To prevent falls from height employers should:
- Eliminate the risk by, where practicable, doing all or some of the work on the ground or from a solid construction.
- Use a passive fall prevention device such as scaffolds, perimeter screens, guardrails, safety mesh or elevating work platforms.
- Use a positioning system, such as a travel-restraint system, to ensure employees work within a safe area.
- Use a fall arrest system, such as a harness, catch platform or safety nets, to limit the risk of injuries in the event of a fall.
- Use a fixed or portable ladder, or implement administrative controls.