The District Court has recently ordered two companies to pay over $545,000 after a man fell from a height due to improper health and safety measures.

The man was working on the second level of a construction site when he fell through an open floor. He fell three metres to the ground and had to be flown to the hospital. He suffered serious spinal injuries and is now paralysed from the legs down.

The company that owned the work site had contracted the operating company to complete work at the site.

The Court had to determine whether the two companies had, so far as reasonably practicable, ensured the health and safety of their workers. This question depends on the resources available to the companies as well as the risks involved in the work.

In this case, the operating company argued that they were not obligated to implement health and safety measures as the other company owned the work site. However, the Court decided that the same health and safety duty may apply to more than one person at the same time.

The Court also decided that the operating company was aware that the owning company was not doing physical checks on the site, and had made no effort to inquire what that meant for their health and safety obligations.

The operating company failed to complete any risk assessments of its own, despite the risks associated with working from a height being well known in the industry. The Court noted that if a risk cannot be extinguished, it must at least be minimised by the employer.

In this case, that would have meant implementing safety barriers or netting to prevent the hole in the floor being a great risk. The Court also decided that the employees of the operating company should have had health and safety training in relation to the work site.

The operating company had therefore failed to ensure the health and safety of its workers.

In terms of the owning company, they argued that the operating company had not consulted them in terms of health and safety, or the work being completed on site. However, not being physically present on a work site does not mean that the owning company did not have a duty to provide a safe work place.

The Court found that the owning company should have consulted a project manager that could have accessed the site and aided the operating company in their work.

The Court decided that both companies could, and should, have done more in order to minimise the risks associated with working at a height. This may have prevented such a serious incident from happening.

The Court ordered the operating company to pay over $61,000 in reparations to the worker, a fine of over $258,000, as well as other costs of over $3,000.

The owning company was ordered to pay reparations over $46,000, a fine of $175,000 for their failing to oversee the work site, as well as over $3,000 in costs.

The companies were ordered to pay, in total, over $545,000. This yet again demonstrates how seriously the Courts take failures to meet obligations to protect the health and safety of workers while at work.

If you are confused about your health and safety obligations, it pays to seek advice from a professional with experience in the area. 

 

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Alan Knowsley and Hunter Flanagan-Connors