More than three years after almost dying on a Craigieburn worksite and suffering terrible injuries, a Melbourne tradie still can’t function the way he used to. Read his story.
A Melbourne tradie who narrowly escaped death after falling 10m to the ground when scaffolding collapsed at a building site wants people to speak up about unsafe work sites.
Ricardo Fuentes was one of five men working on a townhouse in Craigieburn in February 2020 when it gave way, hurtling the workers to the ground.
At first his workmates thought the Wollert father and husband, who says he had only been at Oricon Group for two weeks, was dead.
“For me, it was about holding on (to the scaffolding) for dear life and that’s all I remember to that point. From that point I’ve gone down and hit the ground, I don’t remember anything until waking up and the paramedics were cutting my clothes,” he said.
“It’s a bit of an eerie feeling when you think back because you could have lost your life there and you never think of death but when it happens everything goes quiet, everything slows down.
“That’s how it felt, time stops but it happens so quick but it seemed like an eternity.”
The 55-year-old was rushed to hospital with serious injuries to his ribs and spine.
His wife of 33 years, Rosa Fuentes, recalled seeing multiple missed calls from the hospital and loved ones.
“At that time, it was already on the news and I had his sister and my daughter and son ringing me but I didn’t answer the phone calls because I didn’t even know what to say,” she said.
“When I saw him in the neck brace, I started crying my eyes out because we didn’t know the damage, we didn’t know anything at the time.
“I stayed awake all night by the phone convinced they were going to ring me and say Ricardo had passed … it impacts me till this day.”
The incident has changed their lives immeasurably.
Mr Fuentes’ ability to earn a living has diminished as a result of his injuries with the couple needing their son to help them out financially to make ends meet.
Mr Fuentes still needs a suite of painkillers and specialist appointments more than three years later.
He struggles to sit on the couch through a whole game of football or sleep through the night.
The couple even had to move from their Roxburgh Park home as driving past the worksite was too traumatic an experience.
“I used to drive past there a lot of the time, I’d constantly pass it and it was like I was up there,” he said.
“Sometimes the nightmares come back, not so much about the site but about falling so you have connections with the accident, it never leaves you.
“That’s the thing with major trauma, you always have a connection to it in little ways that affect your day.
“Sometimes the medication can take you to a really dark place but I am blessed in the sense that I’ve got a good family.”
Arnold Thomas and Becker’s Ilbron Osalian – who is Mr Fuentes’ lawyer – said his client would live with these injuries for the rest of his life.
“The injuries have also had a significant impact on our client’s enjoyment of life – he used to cycle up to five times a week and enjoyed gym work, in particular weightlifting and is now restricted in what he can do,” he said.
“As a consequence of his injuries, he was totally incapacitated for work for a period and then was only able to return to work on limited hours and duties before this was no longer viable.
“He is now unable to return to work in the type of employment he was trained and had experience in prior to this injury and, indeed, has had to make dramatic changes to his employment to accommodate. This means he has suffered significant loss of earnings and will see his future earning capacity severely impacted.”
Sanli Scaffolding faced Broadmeadows Magistrates’ Court on January 23 and pleaded guilty to failing to ensure as far as reasonably possible that the scaffolding was installed or erected safely. It was fined $12,000 without conviction.
Oricon Group faced Broadmeadows Magistrates’ Court on April 5 and pleaded guilty to failing to prepare a safe work method statement. It was made to undertake a good behaviour bond, donate to the court fund and pay costs. The sentence carried no conviction.
“The admission of guilt by the two companies is significant to our client, who was let down by his employer and the scaffolding company – he and all workers deserve to be kept safe at work,” Mr Osalian said.
“In this case, our client should have been protected from the risk of falling – he will suffer the consequences of this accident for the rest of his life.
“We will be seeking compensation for what he has endured and will continue to endure – in this case we would be expecting to achieve him financial compensation in the hundreds of thousands which assist him in his recovery and provide some security for his future.”
WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said scaffolding must always be erected in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.
“This incident is a reminder of the potentially catastrophic injuries that can result from using unsafe scaffolds,” Dr Beer said.
“WorkSafe will not hesitate to take action against any employer who fails to take seriously the risk of falls from height and ensure that adequate control measures are in place to keep workers safe.”
WorkSafe Victoria’s statistics confirm there have been 15 workplace fatalities this year compared to 21 at the same time last year.
Source: Herald Sun