A labourer, employed by Empire Contracting Pty Ltd, fell to his death from a height of nearly three metres after his employer failed to properly supervise his work.

The labourer did not have qualifications, formal training, meaningful experience working at heights or using an individual fall arrest system, a NSW Court was told.

The incident occurred in January 2020 at Wollongong University, where Empire Contracting was contracted to remove asbestos from student accommodation facilities so the buildings could be demolished.

During a toolbox talk on the morning of the incident, Empire's site supervisor did not allocate the worker roof work, but instructed him to perform a 'containment' task from the ground, however, the worker collected a harness along with several other workers and joined them on a roof for the day.

In the afternoon, the worker unhooked his harness while still on the roof to prepare to climb down a ladder. He then fell between the roof's sloping timber beams, landing on the concrete floor 2.5 metres below, succumbing to multiple trauma injuries that evening.

The Court fined Empire $300,000, after a 25 per cent discount for its early plea of guilty to breaching sections 19 ('Primary duty of care') and 32 ('Failure to comply with health and safety duty–Category2') of the NSW Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

The Judge noted that despite ‘good policies and procedures’ being in place, the worker still fell and died of his injuries, stressing employers ‘must take steps to protect workers against risks created by inadvertent conduct’ in the course of their work.

‘The supervision that was in place failed, as the worker should not have been on the roof’, she said. 'There were simple, straightforward steps which could and should have been taken to avoid the risk. There were little, if no, costs associated with the steps.’

She found an appropriate fine for Empire was $400,000, before applying the discount. She ordered it to pay the prosecutor's costs.

Source: OHSAlert, 06 October 2022, SafeWork NSW v Empire Contracting Pty Ltd [2022] NSWDC 437 (30 September 2022)

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