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In May 2011, the construction company ABD Group was the principal contractor for building an apartment block. At the time, there were various carpenters employed by a sub-contractor installing particle flooring to joists.

The sub-contractor’s safe work method statement (SWMS) identified the flooring work to be high risk, and stated that “all penetrations will be securely covered and trimmed out at a later date.”

These works were carried out on level seven of the complex, while levels one to six were constructed with suspended concrete slabs. This left an unprotected stairwell void where the carpenters were working.

A carpenter using a circular saw to trim flooring overhanging the stairwell void, slipped and fell into the void while trying to retrieve an unplugged power cord. The worker fell 2.8 metres onto the concrete floor below, landing on his right side without hitting his head, but suffered internal bruising. He was fortunate not to break any bones.

WorkSafe Victoria prosecuted ABD Group and the Court found there was a risk of serious injury or death from a fall from that height onto the concrete slab below because of the absence of any stairwell void protection. Therefore, the Court determined that ABD Group had failed to ensure stairwell void protection was installed by the sub-contractor.

ABD Group was found guilty by the jury, after concluding that it was reasonable to expect ABD Group to conduct daily site visits and weekly inspections, in addition to directing its subcontractor to install the stairwell void protection before any work was undertaken within 2 metres of it. ABD Group was convicted and sentenced to pay a fine of $80,000.

This case is a reminder that all duty-holders, including principal contractors, are responsible for ensuring that SWMS are followed and implemented correctly.

Regular inspections and checks should also be carried out to ensure that all aspects of the work are being completed safely. There are no excuses.

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