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Two companies convicted and fined $750,000 for death of worker

Two construction companies convicted and fined $750,000
Bungala Solar Farm

Two companies have been fined $750,000 following a worker crushed to death by an industrial pile driver at a Port Augusta solar farm in 2018.

Lightforce Asset Pty Ltd and Civil and Allied Technical Construction Pty Ltd were convicted and fines totalling $750,000 before a statutory 40% discount applied for an early guilty plea.

Civil and Allied Technical Construction Pty Ltd, known as Catcon, was contracted to assist building a solar farm including installing metal piles for solar panels to be placed.

Fatality at Townsville concrete plant results in $300,000 fine

Australian Workers’ Compensation Statistics 2018-19

Catcon subcontracted Lightforce Asset Pty Ltd (Lightforce) to supply machinery and a specialist operator for installation of metal piles up to 3.2m.

Lightforce sent an experienced operator to Port Augusta with an Orteco hydraulic pile driver.

On 17 February 2018, the operator was using a hydraulic pile driver to drive longer piles than originally designed to be installed by that pile driver. The operator modified the pile driver in order to complete the task by overriding safety mechanisms.

These modifications were made with the knowledge of a supervisor employed by Catcon. Lightforce had no knowledge of the modifications made by the operator to undertake the work required which was outside the agreed scope of works.

After the modifications were made, the hammer jammed. While the operator was inspecting the pile driver, the hammer released and dropped onto the operator, crushing him and causing his death.

The SafeWork SA investigations identified that the Catcon supervisor was employed without the skills, knowledge and experience required to effectively identify and manage the risk of safety to the worker when operating the pile driver.

Catcon and Lightforce both pleaded guilty for breaching their health and safety duty under section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA) for exposing a person to risk of serious injury or death.

Each of these offences carried a maximum penalty of $1,500,000.

The South Australian Employment Tribunal convicted Catcon and issued a fine of $450,000 ($750,000 before applying a 40% discount) plus costs.

Catcon failed to:

  • Use a safe system of work to minimise the risk of injury
  • Complete a hazard analysis and risk assessment prior to undertaking the task
  • Prepare a safe operating procedure that related to the plant and tasks

Lightforce was convicted with a $300,000 fine ($500,000 before 40% discount) plus costs.

Lightforce failed to:

  • Ensure a hazard identification and risk assessment was completed to identify risk or injury
  • Ensure Mr Fitzgerald operated within the guidelines of Safe Work Method Statements
  • Maintain the pile driver as is reasonably practicable and fit for purpose

SafeWork SA Executive Director, Martyn Campbell said, “This investigation was a complex and protracted inquiry due to the contracting and subcontracting arrangements. That said, a high quality and thorough investigation resulted in a strong case to answer. I hope this conviction helps the family in their grief and recovery after losing a loved one.”

“It is imperative that Head Contractors manage their sub-contracting parties. Contractors may delegate some responsibility but cannot delegate accountability for their work health and safety duties under the law.”

“Taking shortcuts to making machinery fit the task is fraught with risk. Properly assessing risk and getting the right tools for the task is critical. Focusing on critical controls should always be a priority’, said Mr Campbell.

In making the decision, Deputy President Judge Miles Crawley took into account the early plea of guilty from both defendants.

When sentencing, his Honour said he could not accept that the risk of injury was not “self-evident or foreseeable”.

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AMSJ Nov 2021