Lightforce and Catcon fined $750,000 after Mark Fitzgerald was crushed at Bungala solar farm

Two companies have been fined more than $750,000 after a worker who was trying to clear an industrial pile driver was crushed to death at a South Australia solar farm.

Mark Fitzgerald, 49, had been dispatched to the Bungala construction site from Western Australia in late 2017 to help build the enormous solar array. But on February 17, 2018, he was trying to drive 4-metre long piers into the ground when the device jammed. As Mr Fitzgerald tried to fix the machine, the hammer came loose, crushing him to death.

In a published judgment, South Australian Employment Tribunal deputy president Judge Miles Crawley said he could not accept that the accident was not “self-evident or foreseeable”.

Civil and Allied Technical Construction Pty Ltd, known as Catcon, was contracted to help build the 800-hectare, two-stage solar farm. As part of the construction, Catcon contracted Lightforce Asset Pty Ltd, which trades as Erections (WA), to supply machinery and specialist operators.

Mr Fitzgerald, Lightforce’s most experienced operator, was sent to Port Augusta along with an Orteco hydraulic pile driver. Mr Fitzgerald’s experience was using the Orteco to install road side barriers, using the 2.7-metre mast to hammer the posts into the ground.

At the solar farm, he was expected to drive 3.2-metre piers into the ground. The machine was modified to have a 4-metre mast, but no other staff for Lightforce were sent to the site to assess whether it was appropriate to use the extension.

On February 17, 2018, Mr Fitzgerald was using the machine to drive long piers into the ground for electrical combiner boxes. The boxes were being installed among the arrays, and Mr Fitzgerald and the Orteco were chosen because of their smaller size than the larger Vermeer pile drivers.

Judge Crawley said the longer piers required for the combiner boxes were not within the scope of Mr Fitzgerald’s work, or the tasks he was contracted to complete. The work was progressing slowly because the piers were too long for the Orteco.

Judge Crawley said Mr Fitzgerald “in keeping with his attitude to work” made impromptu changes to the Orteco, including removing links on the support chain and removing the top stops so the hammer could travel higher than recommended.

A Catcon supervisor was aware that the augmentations were being made. The modifications caused the hammer to jam and while Mr Fitzgerald was trying to determine what was causing the problem, the hammer came loose and crushed him.

Both companies pleaded guilty to breaching safety procedures at the earliest opportunity. However, Judge Crawley said Catcon’s submission which blamed the site supervisor for an “error of judgment” was “overly simplistic and goes some way to undermining the level of its contrition”.

Lightforce was fined $300,000 after discount for early guilty plea, while Catcon was fined $450,000.
Civil proceedings brought by Mr Fitzgerald’s family continue against Lightforce.

Source: The Advertiser

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