Source: SafeWork NSW & Lets Talk About Safety

A Sydney scaffolding company has been fined $2 million by the NSW District Court, the highest penalty ever recorded for a SafeWork NSW offence.

Head of SafeWork NSW Natasha Mann said the fine serves as a reminder to construction businesses throughout NSW about the importance of work site safety as no amount of money will ever compensate for a life lost.

“On 1 April 2019, a steel modular scaffold collapsed at a construction site in Macquarie Park Sydney, crushing two workers. Tragically an 18-year-old worker was killed, and another suffered life-changing injuries,” Ms Mann said.

“Synergy Scaffolding Services Pty Ltd plead guilty to a Category 1 offence* under section 31/19(2) of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 in the NSW District Court.

“As part of the plea, Synergy accepted there was no vertical bracing for the scaffolding where there should have been, as per Australian Standards.

“Synergy also failed to advise the principal contractor that the loads placed on the scaffold exceeded the amount of weight the scaffold could safely hold, with the scaffold overloaded at the time of the incident.

“In sentencing, the judge noted the collapse of the scaffold was caused by a culmination of events and the case should serve as a telling reminder that unsafe acts on a building site can and do lead to catastrophic consequences.”

Ms Mann said Operation Scaff Safe 2022 is currently underway.

“It is a six-month campaign with Inspectors out in-force across NSW checking scaffolding installations on construction sites. In particular, they will be looking to see that installations are applying the new Scaffold Industry Safety Standard (PDF, 11195.23 KB) which was published in March of this year.

“Scaffolding requires constant attention and coordination. The Industry Standard sets out practical guidance that can be used by principal contractors and scaffolders to effectively manage safety risks through all phases of a construction project.

“Inspectors can issue on-the-spot fines for non-compliance. Individuals may be fined up to $720 and businesses up to $3,600,” she said.

In the past two years SafeWork NSW have implemented several programs to improve safety for workers in the construction industry including:

  • The establishment of a Family and Injured Worker Support Group to provide advice and feedback to SafeWork NSW for families and injured workers impacted by a workplace tragedy.
  • The development of a Young Worker eToolkit, for employees and workers, containing tips and training materials about work safety rights and responsibilities.
  • The Speak Up Save Lives app which allows people to anonymously report unsafe work practices directly to SafeWork NSW.
  • Annual SafeWork NSW Building and Construction Symposium events that brings builders, industry, and government together to improve safety for workers.

Find scaffolding safety resources and further information at SafeWork NSW.

Synergy Scaffolding Services has the right to appeal the penalty.

* Category 1 is the most serious category of offence provided for in the Work Health and Safety Act. The offence is committed when a person with a health and safety duty engages in conduct that exposes an individual to a risk of death or serious injury, without a reasonable excuse and is reckless as to that risk.

In addition to the work undertaken by SafeWork NSW in the last two years, the family of the 18-year-old worker who tragically lost his life, have actively been working within the industry to Stop; Speak Up and Save Lives.

Christopher Cassaniti had only just celebrated  his 18th Birthday with family and friends on the Saturday. He had just purchased his first car and picked it up on the Friday before. He was a young man with dreams and goals that were never fulfilled. His death shook the family and the industry to its core and left a legacy behind, so since his death, his mother Patrizia Cassaniti has turned her anger to something positive and has been advocating safety in his honour with a mission to make sure that no Australian worker should ever go to work and die. She has been making her presence known at major industry events and with media outlets, sharing her story about ‘WHAT TRAGEDY LOOKS LIKE’ and what happens when complacency overrides what we know is Safe to do in the first place and disaster hits.

Patrizia Cassaniti attended the SafeWork NSW – Building and Construction Safety Symposium earlier this year, during which the aforementioned SafeWork Scaffolding Industry Safety Standard was released.

The scaffold was a wedge-lock type birdcage scaffold, originally used as a bridge between a personnel and materials hoist and the building under construction. At the time of collapse the hoist had been removed and the scaffold was being used to store material and to complete the remaining façade work on the exterior of the building.

The subsequent investigation by SafeWork NSW identified issues with the planning, design, management and modification of the scaffold, as well as a lack of clarity regarding its duty rating. It also identified a need for clear written guidance regarding:

  • Management of contractors
  • Management of scaffolding work
  • Management of erected scaffolds, particularly on-going modification
  • Training and qualification of workers
  • Role of engineers, sign-offs and verifications

The prosecution resulted in a WHS Project Order made under Section 238 of the NSW Work Health and Safety Act 2011, to develop a Scaffolding Industry Safety Standard to provide this guidance: which you can view online here.

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