Source: WorkSafe Victoria

A steel fabrication and installation company has been convicted and fined $40,000 after continuing to put workers at risk on a Geelong construction site, even after a worker was seriously injured.

NJ Steel Fabrications Pty Ltd was sentenced in the Geelong Magistrates’ Court on Thursday after pleading guilty to three charges of failing to provide and maintain a safe workplace and one charge of failing to provide information, instruction or training.

The company was also ordered to pay $8,375 in costs.

The court heard NJ Steel Fabrications had been engaged to provide structural steel works for an alfresco dining area at a retail premises in Geelong, including the installation of steel and plastic roof sheeting.

In January 2022, two workers were on top of the steel structure installing roof sheets when one of them fell through a gap approximately 3.85 metres to the ground below.

He sustained serious injuries including bleeding on the brain, a fractured pelvis, several fractured ribs, lacerations to his liver and kidney and bleeding associated with his adrenal gland.

WorkSafe inspectors attended and found there was no safe work method statement (SWMS) on site and one that had been prepared for the installation was not reviewed and revised to address the high risk construction work being performed. There were also no fall prevention measures being used and none of the workers on site were experienced or trained in working at heights.

It was reasonably practicable for NJ Steel Fabrications to install passive fall prevention devices such as guard railing and safety mesh, and to have provided training to workers on the hazards and risks of working at heights, the need for passive fall prevention devices and their implementation.

In February 2022, inspectors returned to the site and found the company’s director and another worker on the roof without internal fall prevention measures in place. Within an hour of WorkSafe leaving the site, the director was again observed working on the roof without adequate fall protection.

The court found NJ Steel Fabrication had failed to control the risk of a fall from height by affixing safety mesh to the entire roof area of the steel structure.

WorkSafe Executive Director Health and Safety Sam Jenkin said the company’s blatant disregard for the safety of workers was inexcusable.

“It is no secret that there is simply no safe way to work from heights without the appropriate training and fall prevention measures in place,” Mr Jenkin said.

“It beggars belief that this company still failed to install adequate controls to ensure the site was safe even after the risk had eventuated and a worker had suffered serious injuries.”

To prevent falls from height employers should implement the highest possible measures from the five levels in the hierarchy of controls:

  • Level 1 – Eliminate the risk by, where practicable, doing all or some of the work on the ground or from a solid construction.
  • Level 2 – Use a passive fall prevention device such as scaffolds, perimeter screens, guardrails, safety mesh or elevating work platforms.
  • Level 3 – Use a positioning system, such as a travel-restraint system, to ensure employees work within a safe area.
  • Level 4 – Use a fall arrest system, such as a harness, catch platform or safety nets, to limit the risk of injuries in the event of a fall.
  • Level 5 – Use a fixed or portable ladder, or implement administrative controls.

When undertaking High Risk Construction Work (HRCW), duty holders must:

  • Ensure HRCW is not performed unless a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) is prepared.
  • Ensure that once a SWMS has been developed, all HRCW work is undertaken in accordance with that SWMS.
  • Stop work immediately, or as soon as it is safe to do so, once they become aware a SWMS is not being followed.
  • Review the SWMS whenever there is a change in the work being undertaken or if there is an indication that control measures are not adequate.

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