Source: SafeWork Victoria

An electrical company that repeatedly put workers at risk when working at height has been convicted and fined $40,000.

New Switch Electrical Pty Ltd was sentenced in the Geelong Magistrates’ Court on Monday 22 April after being found guilty of three charges of failing to provide or maintain a safe workplace.

The company was also ordered to pay $3959 in costs.

In July 2022, WorkSafe inspectors observed two New Switch Electrical apprentices installing solar panels on the roof of a Wandana Heights home with no falls protection in place.

The court heard the inspectors were told the sole company director was aware there was no falls protection on the 2.7-metre-high roof and had left the workers on site unsupervised, telling them to “keep doing what (they were) doing)”.

A safe work method statement (SWMS) had also not been prepared for the work.

WorkSafe had previously taken compliance action against the company in June 2021, after a New Switch Electrical apprentice was observed installing solar panels on a house with no falls protection or SWMS in place.

The court heard it was reasonably practicable for the company to provide safe systems of work to ensure fall protection measures, such as guard rails, were installed before any work was carried out; to provide adequate supervision to workers to ensure they did not commence work without fall protection measures in place; and to ensure a SWMS was prepared prior to high risk construction work commencing.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said failing to manage the risks of working at height was a tragedy waiting to happen.

“It’s incredibly disappointing to see the very well-known strategies to reduce the risk of falls continue to be ignored, and it’s even more frustrating that this employer had previously acknowledged they understood their safety obligations,” Dr Beer said.

“The workers involved were young apprentices with their whole working lives ahead of them and it is awful to think their futures were knowingly put at risk because of this employer’s failure.”

To prevent falls from height employers should:

  • Eliminate the risk by, where practicable, doing all or some of the work on the ground or from a solid construction.
  • Use a passive fall prevention device such as scaffolds, perimeter screens, guardrails, safety mesh or elevating work platforms.
  • Use a positioning system, such as a travel-restraint system, to ensure employees work within a safe area.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • A copy of the SWMS must be retained for the duration of any HRCW.

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