Site Supervisor/Manager Prosecuted after Concrete Panel Toppled

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Two warehouses were erected from precast concrete panels at a construction site. On 28 June 2011, the site supervisor and manager of the company manufacturing the panel, noticed that a panel had only one lifting point and only one bracing point, whereas other panels had two. After the crane had put this panel in place, it needed to be adjusted in order to be in exact position. He called two of the workers over to adjust it manually. He expected the crane to leave the chains in place during the adjustment, but it released the chains. He did not alert the workers to this. But when the panel started to fall, he called out a warning. It toppled and crushed the cabin of an adjacent truck, but the workers escaped without injury.

The site supervisor was prosecuted for breach of s 21(1)(a) and s 63A of the Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare Act 1986 (SA), namely for failure to take reasonable care to avoid adversely affecting the health or safety of workers. Although nobody had been injured, two workers had been exposed to a risk of serious injury or even death.

The site supervisor pleaded guilty. He had failed to ensure that the panel was supported by:

  • A minimum of two supports, according to the National Code of Practice for Precast, Tilt-up and Concrete Elements in Building Construction, which was an approved code of practice under s 63 of the Act
  • The crane while the adjustments were made
  • Two braces, as specified in the shop drawings for the panel’s design plans.

The Magistrates Court of South Australia confirmed that a combination of failures had caused the panel to fall. First of all, a failure in the manufacturing process had left it without adequate propping devices. At the site, the crane had failed to support it during the adjustment. The fact that the two workers had stood on it while it was being adjusted, although the site supervisor had not directed them to do that, had added to its weight.

The court noted that a safe work method statement (SWMS) had been available for the installation of the panels. After the incident, the SWMS had been amended to specify clearly that every panel must have at least two propping devices. Documented procedures for the review of shop drawings after the engineering certification had also been developed to ensure there would be no oversight in the manufacturing process.

The site supervisor was extremely remorseful for the incident. Although he already had qualifications in the use of elevated platforms, dogging, rigging, forklift driving and crane operation, he agreed with the prosecutor’s recommendation to undertake a construction safety supervisor’s course. He also enrolled in courses on the new health and safety regulations and the building codes and standards relevant to the construction process.

The court noted that it was the site supervisor’s first offence, so the maximum possible penalty was $10,000. Taking into account that he had cooperated with the investigation, pleaded guilty and taken measures to ensure such an incident would not happen again, it found that a penalty of $2,500 was appropriate. Because he had pleaded guilty, he was allowed a 30% discount. He was convicted and fined $1,750.

Perry v Carter [2014] SAIRC 2 (22 January 2014)

See http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/sa/SAIRC/2014/2.html.

 

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