Worker Injured by Collapsing Concrete Staircase

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During the construction of a three level building in March 2011, a newly constructed concrete staircase collapsed, striking a worker on the back, shoulders and helmet. He was knocked clear and fortunately did not suffer serious injury. He only needed one day off work. The concrete stairs weighed between 3 and 3.5 tonnes.

The construction company was prosecuted for breach of s 19(1) of the Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare Act 1986 (SA), namely for failure to ensure its employee was safe from injury at work. The company pleaded guilty. It had failed to ensure the staircase was structurally connected to the first floor slab. An adequate structural connection would have required the installation of reinforcement bars from the slab before the concrete for the stairs was poured. The company had failed to provide a safe system of work that included an inspection system to ensure the staircase would have structural integrity.

The Magistrates Court of South Australia established that the construction company had subcontracted the construction of the stairs to specialist concreters. However, it had accepted contractual responsibility to ensure the building work would comply with certain specifications and to arrange expert structural engineering inspections of each critical construction stage.

The evidence in court revealed that structural engineers had warned the construction company earlier during the build that two other staircases had not been connected to the first floor. The company had alerted the subcontractors and the defect had been remedied. The fact that defects in two other staircases had not prompted the company to use a checklist to ensure it would not happen again was found to be an aggravating feature of the breach. The risk of injury or death created by the uninspected structure and the company’s failure to take steps to avert the hazard in spite of the previous warning made the breach extremely serious.

After the incident, the construction company had reviewed and modified its safety systems and ensured its site manager used written inspection checklists. The new duties of the site manager included:

  • Listing all inspection test points
  • Verifying with the construction manager that the list has been accepted by the engineering consultant
  • Incorporating the list into the management manual
  • Ensuring that the actions required by the list were undertaken and that completion of the work was recorded and reported.

The court accepted that, provided the revised system was actively maintained, a repeat offence of the same nature would be unlikely to occur. The court also accepted that the company took its occupational health and safety obligations seriously and had cooperated with the investigations and pleaded guilty. As a result, it allowed a 20% reduction in the penalty calculation. The company was convicted and fined $100,000.

In addition to the conviction and the fine, the court decided to make a notification order in this case. It required the company to include a notice on its corporate website for two years, reporting the incident, the prosecution and the penalty.

Perry v Badge Constructions (SA) Pty Ltd [2013] SAIRC 49 (11 December 2013)

http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/sa/SAIRC/2013/49.html

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