A Victorian court levelled combined fines of $880,000 against a building company and its director over the death of a 21-year-old apprentice at a construction site in 2013.

Jacbe Builders and director David Fergusson were fined $700,000 and $180,000 respectively in the Melbourne County Court after pleading guilty to one charge each of failing to provide and maintain a safe working environment. Mr Fergusson had instructed a crane driver to lift and place a load of flooring sheets onto recently installed trusses on the second floor of an apartment building where both he and the apprentice were working.

The structure’s trusses collapsed after the sheets, weighing 1.76 tonnes, were placed there – collapsing both floors to the ground. The apprentice was trapped under the debris and died at the scene, while Mr Fergusson also suffered injuries in the incident. WorkSafe Victoria head of Hazardous Industries and Industry Practice Michael Coffey said understanding the load bearing capacity of floors under construction was “a basic skill”. “Workers who are loading materials must be aware of the floor’s limitations, including loading sequences or positioning requirements. This is particularly important when builders or contractors are using cranes to place bulk materials onto a floor or its trusses,” he said.

Young at risk

 Workers aged under 24 often lacked experience and were generally eager to make a good impression – a trait which could make them reluctant to ask questions.

“Employers need to ensure their young workers not only receive the correct training and supervision, but are empowered to speak up. For young workers our message is that if you are not sure about something, stop and ask,” Ms Williams said.

WorkSafe Victoria accepted 538 injury claims made by construction workers aged 15-24 in the 2016 calendar year, with Victoria also accounting for seven of the 30 fatalities that occurred on construction sites in Australia in 2016.

Across the nation 21 people have been killed on construction sites so far this year, according to preliminary data from Safe Work Australia, two of which were people under 25.

Falls from height were the cause of most construction worker deaths from 2003-2015, according to SafeWork Australia’s most recent Work-Related Traumatic Injury Fatalities report – accounting for 133 of the 469 construction worker deaths over this period.

Another 67 construction workers died from contact with electricity during that period.

Understanding your obligations

The construction industry is a broad one, often with many contractors involved, carrying out work in hazardous locations – occasionally at height or in confined spaces, and sometimes involving dangerous chemicals, asbestos or lead.

Developing thorough work health and safety management plans is one step towards ensuring safety, and while knowing who holds ultimate responsibility is important, knowing what to look out for is vital.

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