Company fined after unsafe demolition
In a rare asbestos-related prosecution, a demolition company has been convicted and fined $20,000 (plus $4449 in costs) after a neighbour spotted workers knocking down a building without the proper controls in place. In the experience of the VTHC OHS Unit, neighbours are often the first to notice and report questionable demolitions.
Fivestar Demolition and Render Pty Ltd pleaded guilty in the Broadmeadows Magistrates' Court last Thursday to failing to provide or maintain a workplace that was safe and without risks to health and failing to ensure that people other than employees were not exposed to risks to health.
After being alerted by the neighbour, WorkSafe inspectors attended the Oak Park property in May 2018 and found two Fivestar workers demolishing a bungalow. An independent hygienist confirmed the building contained asbestos. Fivestar was not a licensed asbestos removalist.
One of the workers said the company’s director had told them to go ahead with the work despite the presence of asbestos to get the job done quicker. This behaviour put the workers and those in the surrounding area at risk.
WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Julie Nielsen said cutting corners on safety was unacceptable. "Asbestos is an extremely hazardous material that can have lifelong health consequences for anyone exposed to it," Ms Nielsen said. "Employers are required to provide a safe and healthy workplace and must also comply with laws relating to asbestos removal." Read more: WorkSafe media release, which includes information on removal of asbestos. More information on asbestos in the home, and in the workplace.
To check for more prosecutions before the next edition (which remember will not be until February 2021), go to WorkSafe Victoria's Prosecution Result Summaries and Enforceable Undertakings webpage.
NSW: Company fined $300k after worker killed
NSW company WY Constructions Pty Ltd has been convicted and fined $300,000, and ordered to undertake a WHS project, after a worker was killed performing a high-risk task she was "completely unqualified" for. NSW District Court Judge David Russell found the company failed to implement a safe work method statement or demolition plan for demolishing a six-metre-tall brick chimney, leaving several untrained workers to determine how to remove the chimney in the moments before it collapsed and killed one of them.
WY's director was at the site at the time and "had to run for his life to escape being crushed". , said the judge. "[He] had no appreciation of the precautions which were necessary during the demolition... His ignorance shows that WY Constructions made no attempt whatsoever to ascertain or carry out its obligations under the [NSW WHS] Act."
The fatality occurred in December 2017, when the director and the three workers were manually demolishing a brick cottage at the Strathfield site. The killed worker, a 48-year-old woman who recently immigrated from China and started work on the site only that day, was buried in the brickwork and suffered fatal blunt force injuries to the chest and neck. She had been engaged by WY to perform demolition work despite her construction industry experience being limited to casual work delivering bricks and mixing cement. The judge said, "[The worker] was on her first day on the site at the time of the incident and was completely unqualified for demolition work. She was a very vulnerable worker."
The original fine of $400,000 was reduced by 25 per cent due to the company pleading guilty.