$130,000 fine after nail penetrates teen's skull

A carpentry company in Langwarrin has been convicted and fined $130,000 after a 16-year-old apprentice was injured twice in one day at a Glen Waverly construction site.

Shape
Published: 15 December 2022

Topline Carpentry South East Pty Ltd was sentenced in the Ringwood Magistrates' Court last week after being found guilty of eight charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The company was also ordered to pay costs of $5,715.

The court heard that in March 2021, a young apprentice attempted to catch a reciprocating saw that was thrown to him by a more experienced colleague. As a result, he suffered a deep laceration to his hand which was bandaged onsite.

The incident was not reported to WorkSafe.

Later that day, the apprentice was working with the same colleague to build a doorframe. The workers were facing each other at opposite ends of the doorframe, using nail guns loaded with 75mm steel nails.

The more experienced worker fired his nail gun. The nail perforated and split the frame's wooden top plate, striking the apprentice in the forehead, penetrating his skull by approximately 40mm and his brain by approximately 20mm.

The apprentice was taken to the Royal Children's Hospital, where the nail was surgically removed. He was released one week later.

This incident also went unreported to WorkSafe.

After being alerted to the second incident by Victoria Police, WorkSafe inspectors arrived on site and began inquiries. Topline had removed all tools but one nail gun from the worksite prior to WorkSafe's arrival.

During their inquiries, WorkSafe's inspectors became aware of the first incident.

Topline was found guilty of failing to report both incidents to WorkSafe, failing to preserve the scene following both incidents and failing to provide written reports to WorkSafe in relation to both incidents.

It was also found guilty of failing to provide and maintain a safe system of work for assembling the doorframe, and of obstructing an investigation by intentionally concealing the location or existence of the nail guns from WorkSafe inspectors.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said this horrific matter highlighted the vulnerability of young workers.

"I'm appalled at the conduct and actions of this employer towards a young, inexperienced worker who now has a permanent scar on his head and continues to experience discomfort."

"This prosecution sends a strong message to employers, colleagues and families that this type of treatment and behaviour is unacceptable.

"WorkSafe will not hesitate to investigate and hold accountable anyone who acts in such a vile manner."

The worker who threw the saw was last month fined $500, without conviction, and ordered to pay $1,000 costs after pleading guilty to failing to take reasonable care for the health and safety of his colleague by throwing the saw in his direction without removing the blade.

To eliminate or reduce the risk of injuries when using nail guns:

  • Replace bump fire nail guns with sequential firing nail guns wherever possible.
  • Regularly inspect and maintain nail guns and associated equipment to ensure they are in good working order and safe to use.
  • Follow manufacturer specifications and operating instructions for each nail gun. Do not assume all nail guns are the same.
  • Only use fasteners recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Ensure workers are trained in the safe use and operation of nail guns.
  • Ensure inexperienced operators (e.g. apprentices and trainees) are supervised by a competent person when using nail guns.