Construction company faces $500K fine after worker killed on the job

The victim's family said the penalty should serve as a 'serious warning'

Construction company faces $500K fine after worker killed on the job

In a recent decision, the District Court of NSW imposed a half a million dollar fine on construction company McConnell Dowell following the death of one of its workers in 2017.

In March 2017, 32-year-old rigger Timothy Ross Macpherson was killed after two unrestrained metal beams, called headstocks, toppled over onto him while he worked on the Maeve Anne barge as part of the Barangaroo Ferry Project. 

At the time of his death, MacPherson had a 14-month-old son, and his wife was pregnant with their second child.

In court, McConnell Dowell relied on the affidavit of the company’s Executive General Manager – Health, Safety, Environment and Quality. The manager detailed the steps the company took pre- and post-incident.

The court found that the risk of the headstocks falling over on the barge was foreseeable, and one that the company “ought to have known” about. It further found that the company’s breach of duty exposed its workers to a risk of death or serious injury.

Further, the court listed several measures that McConnell Dowell could have been, including directing the sub-contractor, Brandy Marine, to lay the headstocks down, conduct a risk assessment, secure the headstocks to the deck, or prohibit workers from working on the barge while the headstocks were unrestrained.

“There would have been no significant burden or cost involved in taking the appropriate measures,” the court said.

The court also heard victim impact statements from Macpherson’s mother and father. His mother described her son’s tragic death as leaving a “huge hole” in her life. His father called for the punishment to stand as a “serious warning” to other companies that might take the “she’ll be right” attitude to workplace safety.

Ultimately, the court found that McConnell Dowell had failed to comply with its work health and safety duty under the Work Health and Safety Act (NSW) 2011 s 19. The offence carries a maximum penalty of a $1,500,000 fine.

The $500,000 fine imposed was mitigated by McConnell Dowell’s lack of any previous convictions in its 36-year history, which the court described as a “very impressive safety record” for such a company.

Key Takeaways:

  • Employers must be wary of their duties under the Work Health and Safety Act
  • Failure to mitigate foreseeable risks may result in substantial penalties

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