Small fine of $1250 but important safety lessons

An OHS fine of $A1250 hardly seems newsworthy but several important issues are illustrated by a prosecution in Western Australia on 10 November 2011, particularly, individual responsibility and accountability.

WorkSafe WA has released details of a prosecution against an individual worker over the fall of material from 15 metres towards fellow construction workers.  The media release (not yet available online) says that

“In July 2009, Mr Bell was employed by Perth Rigging Company Pty Ltd on a site at Naval Base where steel roof sections were being placed on concrete silos. He was in charge of arranging how the steel roof sections would be lifted into place.

The first roof section had been placed on one of the silos, and the second section (which was 18 meters long, six metres wide and weighed more than 10 tonnes) was to be lifted onto another of the silos.

Perth Rigging did not have available the necessary rigging equipment to lift this roof section, and the site supervisor offered to obtain this equipment. The offer was accepted, but Mr Bell did not stipulate what rigging equipment was required.

Four three-tonne synthetic lifting slings and two chains were provided to Mr Bell, and he decided to use this equipment to lift the roof section. He also determined the manner in which the slings would be used.

The four slings were attached to the load, but when it was lifted by the tower crane to a height of around 15 metres, one or more of the slings snapped and the roof section swung before the remaining slings snapped and it fell to the ground.

Two workers assisting Mr Bell were forced to run to ensure they were clear of the falling load, and the tower crane itself swung violently as the load was released.”

Hazards associated with synthetic web slings are well-known here and overseas.  A post-incident CFMEU union safety alert about the Perth Rigging job states that

  • “The number one cause of nylon sling failure is caused by load edge movement against sling. Always use packing to prevent slings coming into contact with sharp edges.
  • A nylon sling will lose more than 10% of its strength when it is wet.
  • They must be inspected before each use, send slings for a proof load test at least every 12 months.
  • Never use if label has been removed”

WorkSafe WA points out that Mr Bell

“held a certificate in advanced rigging, so it’s hard to imagine how he would not have known better than to use slings that were not rated to lift the load.”

The severity of the risk of injury to workmates is obvious from the 15 metre fall of a roof section of over 10 tonnes but SafetyAtWorkBlog has been informed that the roof height was considerably more than 15 metres.

Most fines of $A1250 receive scant media attention but it is important to note that the maximum fine available to the judge was $A10,000.  A 10% fine seems too small but this percentage size of fine is a common occurrence.  OHS regulators do not set the penalty amount in prosecutions however it is worth speculating on the size of the penalty under the new Work Health and Safety Act that the Western Australian Government is not supporting but that will be introduced in seven of Australia’s nine jurisdictions from 1 January 2011.

It is possible that Mr Bell could have been found guilty of reckless endangerment, a Category 1 offence over the  exposure of ” an individual to a risk of death or serious injury or serious illness without reasonable excuse” according to Safe Work Australia’s Explanatory Memorandum.  This category of offence for a worker, in the future, is likely to attract a maximum penalty of $A300,000 and/or 5 years jail.

This case illustrates the need to plan for major lifting tasks, to use the appropriate equipment, to apply the skills and competencies one has learned and earned, to be aware of personal accountability for safety decisions in the workplace, and of the continuing poor state of penalty setting in some Australian jurisdictions.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia
Categories construction, crane, evidence, government, hazards, height, law, lawyers, OHS, risk, safety, WorkSafeTags , , , ,

3 thoughts on “Small fine of $1250 but important safety lessons”

  1. I find this penalty an insult and I would wonder if Mr Bell is still employed by Perth Rigging. The judge needs to have a long hard look at himself as well. What message is he (has he) sending out to the public. More or less a slap on the wrist for Mr Bell and a slap in the face to those placed in enormous danger. This could be a catalyst for the WA Government to get serious and look more closely at the WHS Act (implementation of) as the penalties are more in line with public expectations.

    I am also curious to know what the risk assessment (if any) ranked the task. The communication appears to have contributed (via not asking the right questions with the rigging equipment) and it is unbelievable that Mr Bell with an advanced rigging ticket failed to detail his requirements.

    Complacency will always bite you and bite you hard. A small fine for a major incident. Hardly what the public expects and I suspect demands.

    1. Wayne, I doubt that any media will report on the small fine as there is just not enough interest in OHS for the mainstream media, at least, to report more than a paragraph on this, if at all. You could make a case that this fine shows the inadequate penalty regime in Western Australia but you would need much more information than this one instance.

      I also think that more information about the risk assessments would be useful for the OHS profession to review and consider but this level of detail is unlikely to appear as the prosecution was conducted in a lower Court and so almost no additional information is publicly available. Some of the information in mynarticlenh come from the Court of Appeal.

      I would also point out that this case may also be used to reinforce the argument for investigating (and reporting) near misses or close calls.

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