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Gold Coast builder fined $65,000 after a carpenter fell three metres through a staircase well and suffered a fractured skull.

The company was fined after pleading guilty to breaching section 19(1) of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 for failing to meet its workplace safety obligations. However, no conviction was recorded. The court heard that on 3rd July 2015, a carpenter fell through a staircase void when working on a Benowa building site, managed and controlled by the defendant.

There was edge protection on the first floor, where work was being carried out, but appropriate scaffolding for other floors had been delayed by bad weather.

Immediately before the incident, two workers were carrying a 50kg prefabricated wooden frame, which was to be used elsewhere on site, but previously covered the void area.  Carrying the frame, the supervisor was walking forwards and the worker who fell through the unprotected gap into the void was walking backwards.

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland told the court the incident was preventable if the company had placed adequate covers or barriers over the void before storing frames over it, or stopped work until adequate protection was in place. In any event, workers also could have been instruction to discontinue work while awaiting the delayed scaffolding.

For some time prior to the incident, daily pre-start meetings had actually discussed safety issues, particularly the dangers of high risk activities.

As a result of the incident the worker suffered serious injuries, including skull, cheek and vertebral fractures. His head injury lead to ongoing slurred speech and amnesia.

In deciding the penalty, the magistrate took into account that the company gave some foresight into safety issues and had ordered scaffolding prior to incident but it was delayed. Also considered was that the scaffolding was fully erected post incident and the company cooperated with the investigation and had a good corporate safety history.

This is a perfect example of production overriding safety, the simple solution was to wait for the scaffold or order it earlier and there would be no issue. Instead workers are put in a position where they have to compromise on their safety. A delayed delivery doesn’t protect your workers or your business.

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