Building company fined $45,000 over worker fall

WA Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety

A building company has been fined $45,000 (and ordered to pay $5000 in costs) over an incident in which a worker fell approximately three metres through a concealed void at a construction site in Safety Bay.

Alcove Engineering & Construction Pty Ltd pleaded guilty to failing to provide and maintain a safe working environment for a person who was not their employee, and was fined in the Rockingham Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday.

Alcove Engineering was engaged as the main building contractor in late 2018 to undertake home renovation work at a property in Safety Bay involving the addition of a second storey.

The company also engaged a number of subcontractors, including a glass company that was to supply and install six double-glazed windows in the upstairs addition, and a carpentry company.

In January 2019, an employee of Alcove Engineering and a carpentry subcontractor went to the site to remove a 2.5m x 2.5m portion of the upper level mezzanine floor in preparation for the installation of stairs.

When the task was completed, the carpenter told the property owner he would fit an edge protection handrail to the void the next morning, before the expected arrival of glass company workers.

The property owner requested that a tarpaulin be put over the void to stop wind and rain from entering the lower level, and this was done by the carpenter after consultation with Alcove Engineering’s site supervisor.

The ladder leading to the upper level was removed and the carpenter assured the site supervisor he would be back at around 7.00am to fit the handrail and that no other workers were scheduled to arrive at the property until around 8.30am.

Between 7.00am and 7.30am the following morning, three workers from the glass company arrived at the site to fit panes to the windows, accessing the upper floor via the outside scaffolding.

After the glass was brought up via the outside barrow ramp, one of the workers entered the upstairs sitting room and saw the tarpaulin on the floor.

There was no signage or other indication of an opening below, and no railing or other edge protection preventing access to the void.

The worker walked towards an open window in the sitting room and stepped on the tarpaulin, not knowing there was no floor beneath it, and fell around three metres to the concrete floor below.

He suffered severe injuries to his elbow and shoulder. The carpenter arrived at the property shortly after the fall.

WorkSafe Commissioner Darren Kavanagh expressed his disappointment with another serious injury resulting from a fall on a construction site.

“A full 14 percent of all work-related fatalities that have occurred in the construction industry since 2012/13 were as the result of a fall from height,” Mr Kavanagh said.

“The WHS regulations will, after a transition period, see increased safety requirements in workplaces in which high risk construction work is taking place.

“Western Australia has had a Code of Practice for the Prevention of Falls at Workplaces since 2004, and this code provides practical guidance to effectively manage fall risks and should be followed in all workplaces where a risk of falls is present.

“The code is almost 20 years old, so it would be reasonable to think construction industry employers and workers would be familiar with its requirements by now.

“It was a serious failing that Alcove Engineering’s site supervisor agreed to placing the tarpaulin over the void with no signage or other indication that there was no floor under it.

“It was practicable for the Alcove Engineering subcontractor to have fitted edge protection around the void, prevented all access to the second floor, both inside and outside, or to have erected signage to warn of the hazard.

“None of these measures were taken by the carpenter or ordered by Alcove Engineering’s site supervisor – unfortunate omissions that led to this worker suffering serious injuries that could have been far worse.

“Alcove Engineering had control of the workplace and of access and egress to the site, and the company failed to take any practicable measures to ensure the safety of the workers there.”

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