Employer fined $90K after workers suffered 3m fall

The workers sustained serious injuries after a concrete slab collapsed beneath them

Employer fined $90K after workers suffered 3m fall

In a recent case, the District Court of New South Wales considered a workplace system failure that left two employees with serious injuries. Ultimately, the employer pleaded guilty to breaching its health and safety duty but could not escape a hefty fine imposed by SafeWork NSW.

Mercon Group Pty Ltd (“Mercon”) is a demolition and excavation business. The company was engaged to undertake demolition work for the refurbishment of a heritage building. Mercon’s initial quote included $16,000 worth of “catch decks” used to minimise the risks associated with concrete falling during the excavation process. The principal contractor did not accept this quote and another system, which did not provide a solid surface to arrest falling concrete, was agreed to.

In early February 2017, three workers, Pierre Younan, Giuseppe Ferro, and Paul Raffoul, were cutting one of the concrete slabs when the slab they were working on collapsed beneath them. Younan and Ferro fell almost three metres to the ground. Younan sustained wrist and foot fractures, a shoulder injury, and neck, hip, and back pain. Ferro sustained an ankle fracture. Raffoul, who had one foot on another part of the structure, began to fall but was arrested when his clothing caught a piece of protruding metal. He escaped uninjured.

The Evidence

The Court noted that Mercon failed to comply with several safety procedures, which included not installing a catch platform underneath the concrete slabs. However, it acknowledged that, since the accident, the company had invested a “significant sum” into improving its safety systems and had employed a full-time safety officer. The Court also heard from Younan, who stated that Mercon’s directors had great concern and remorse for and noted that the company had since “come a long way in terms of its WHS obligations”.

Judgment

The Court found that the likelihood of the risk eventuating was moderate to high, considering Mercon’s safety system. “Two workers suffered serious injury and the third avoided a similar fate by sheer luck,” the Court said.

Although the Court noted that Mercon should have insisted on its proposed use of catch decks, it found that the principal contractor’s refusal to accept the proposed quote was a “significant mitigating factor”. The Tribunal also considered the company’s lack of previous convictions, strong rehabilitation prospects and remorse. With this, the Court found an appropriate fine to be $120,000, which was reduced by 25% to reflect Mercon’s guilty plea.

Key Takeaways

  • Where an employer is contracted to perform work, they must ensure adequate safety policies are adopted
  • Failure to do so may see an employer breach their duty of care to workers
  • The maximum penalty for such an offence is $1.5 million
  • However, the Court will have regard to mitigating factors, such as remorse and rehabilitation prospects

Recent articles & video

2 in 3 Australians OK with date change for Australia Day

Former security services firm fined for failing to act on Compliance Notice

Independent contractor or not: Worker asserts oral contract

Worker hired through labour hire company challenges employment status

Most Read Articles

1 in 8 new hires leaving during probation: report

FWC finds early notice of end to fixed-term contract amounts to dismissal

Spotless entities plead guilty to long service leave underpayments