​Worker dies after fall from ladder: risk was obvious

Cases

​Worker dies after fall from ladder: risk was obvious

An employer has been fined $60K for failing to provide a safe workplace after a worker died from a fall.

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An employer has been convicted for failing to provide a safe workplace after a worker died from a fall.

The risk of the accident had been obvious, the likelihood of it occurring had been quite high, and simple remedial steps had not been taken.

Facts and background


The job of a 58-year-old casual worker, employed by a man trading as Apple Electronic Security, was to assist with the installation of security cameras for clients. 

On 24 June 2016, the third day of his employment, the man was working from an aluminium extension ladder, drilling a hole through a brick wall for a camera cable. When the employer left the room to set up a second ladder on the other side of the wall, the worker fell about 2.4m to a concrete floor, where the employer found him lying unconscious. He had sustained a broken jaw, shoulder and hip and severe head injuries. In hospital he was pronounced brain dead. His family decided to have his life support turned off on 25 June 2016.

The law


The employer was prosecuted for breach of s19(1) of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW). He pleaded guilty to a failure to comply with his health and safety obligations and exposing the worker to a risk of death or serious injury contrary to s 32 of the Act.

The issue


Because of the employer’s guilty plea, the issue for the District Court of NSW was only to assess the objective seriousness of the offence in order to determine the appropriate penalty.

Considerations


The evidence revealed that the employer had conducted an informal site inspection but had not completed a risk assessment or safe work method statement for the work. The worker had only been shown the basic aspects of the work and the employer had not given him any structured or competency-based training.

After the incident, the employer had rectified deficiencies in his work practices. He undertook formal written risk assessments for new jobs and ensured all available safety options were considered in order to reduce the risk of falls, such as the use of mobile scaffolds, electric work platforms and platform ladders.

Considerations mitigating the employer’s offence included his lack of previous safety convictions, his adoption of safer work practices, the fact he had shown remorse, was unlikely to reoffend, had accepted responsibility for his actions and cooperated with the prosecutor and the police. However, both general and specific deterrence had to be taken into account because the community was entitled to expect employers to comply with safety requirements.

Decisions


Judge Russell found that the employer should have had systems of work for high-risk construction work and for working from heights, and should have conducted documented risk assessments for his work. He should have adhered to Australian/New Zealand standard AS/NZS 1892 on portable ladders and SafeWork Australia’s 2011 code of practice on managing the risk of falls at workplaces. He should also have given his worker adequate training and supervision.

Because the risk of the accident happening had been obvious, the likelihood of it occurring had been quite high, and simple remedial steps had been available, the employer’s level of culpability was found to be in the mid-range. 

Judge Russell determined that the appropriate fine would be $80,000, but reduced it by 25 per cent because the employer had entered a plea of guilty at the earliest possible opportunity. So, with the conviction, the employer was fined $60,000.

The bottom line: Employers, no matter how small, need to be aware of the safety obligations imposed on them by the law and also of the standards and codes of practice that apply in their industries and businesses.

Read the judgment


SafeWork NSW v Ru Dong Li [2018] NSWDC 189 (13 July 2018)
 
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