Construction company fined over work safety breach that led to death

Civil construction company Pipecon has been convicted and fined $550,000 for a workplace safety breach that killed two workers on a housing development in Ballarat.

Jack Brownlee, 21, and Charlie Howkins, 34, died from injuries sustained in a trench collapse at the Winterfield housing development in the suburb of Delacombe in March 2018.

Pipecon pleaded guilty in the County Court last month to one count of failing to provide supervision to ensure a safe workplace.

At the plea hearing, the court was told Pipecon’s site foreman Shaun Mahar had raised concerns the project was understaffed and, by the time of the fatal trench collapse, was spending almost all his time operating excavation equipment instead of supervising other workers.

Mr Mahar was working more than 500 metres away from Mr Brownlee and Mr Howkins when they were killed.

In sentencing in the County Court in Ballarat, Judge Claire Quin said he “must have been aware, if he turned his mind to it” that high-risk work was being carried out without critical safety equipment of a manhole cage and a trench shield.

Judge Quin said the sentence needed to send a message to other employers that a failure to supervise staff on high-risk work “will attract significant punishment”.

She accepted Pipecon had a work safety system in place but said, “this kind of work was so obviously and inherently dangerous, it was important there was meticulous compliance”.

She said Pipecon was well aware of the consequences that could arise from such a failure to supervise staff.

Judge Quin said the men’s families had expressed “understandable grief, pain and anger” of the “soul-destroying impact” of their loved ones’ deaths.

“Nothing this court can do will bring either of them back, but I have taken into account the impact on them,” she said.

Judge Quin also accepted Pipecon had no previous safety issues since its establishment in 1993, that its managing director Andrew Mahar was “traumatised” by the incident, and that a conviction was likely to impact on the company’s ability to obtain contracts for government work.

Pipecon faced a maximum fine of $1.4 million.

City of Ballarat Council chief executive Evan King called the accident a “devastating tragedy”.

“All City of Ballarat tenders are evaluated on their merits under a wide range of conditions and through a rigorous tender process,” Mr King said.

“Pipecon applications would be considered like all other tenders in our process, with occupational health and safety performance being one of the factors taken into consideration.”

Source: ABC News

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