Shed company fined $90,000 after roof fall

A Victor Harbor shed company has been fined $90,000 after a worker fell through a roof, sustaining serious injuries.
The worker fell 3.61 metres from a shed roof onto a concrete floor in October 2021 while dismantling the shed in Victor Harbor with two colleagues.

He suffered serious spinal injuries, fractures to his ribs and shoulder and a punctured lung as a result of the fall.

RNI Constructions was sentenced in the South Australian Employment Tribunal this week.

A SafeWork SA investigation found RNI Constructions:

  • failed to provide a safe system of work
  • failed to create or implement a safe work method statement
  • failed to ensure workers undertaking work at height were properly briefed and using appropriate fall arrest systems.

The worker had not previously been involved in the dismantling of a shed during his time working for RNI Constructions.

The incident occurred when the worker took a bucket to his colleague working on the roof to collect Tek screws that he was removing from ridge capping.

After passing the bucket to the colleague, the worker was instructed to get down off the roof. A few seconds later, the worker fell through a section of roof made of polycarbonate sheeting.

No safe work method statement or any form of risk assessment was prepared or adopted prior to starting work on deconstructing the shed.

Regulation 291 of the Work Health and Safety Regulations 2012 includes in its definition of high-risk work “work that involves a risk of a person falling more than three metres”.

Regulation 299 required RNI Constructions to prepare a safe work method statement for this high-risk construction work, prior to the work commencing.

Regulation 300 required RNI Constructions to ensure that the high-risk work was carried out in accordance with that statement.

RNI Constructions was mainly in the business of fabricating and constructing hundreds of sheds since the company formed in 1998. During this time it had also dismantled about 10 sheds.

In her sentencing remarks, Deputy President Magistrate Katherine Eaton said this level of experience should have made compliance with the regulations routine.

‘There was a complete absence of recognition or compliance by RNI with the safety requirements for high-risk construction work, even though the risk of injury from a fall from a roof height of more than 3.5 metres is glaringly obvious,’ Deputy President Magistrate Eaton said.

‘Workers have died falling from lesser heights.’

An initial fine of $150,000 was imposed before a 40 per cent discount to $90,000, taking into account the early guilty plea, significant remorse shown by RNI’s directors and cooperation with the SafeWork SA investigation. A conviction was recorded.

Since the incident, RNI Constructions ceased taking on any more dismantling work and shifted its operations to engage contractors to construct the sheds it fabricated.

The directors have decided to wind up the business and retire earlier than they had planned, with the last shed due to be completed this month and the business to close in early 2024.

Slips, trips and falls account for a substantial number of workplace incidents with falls from height being the third leading cause of workplace fatalities across Australia.

In 2022, SafeWork SA recorded 77 notifiable serious injuries resulting from falls.

More than 100 stop-work notices were issued to halt risky practices on South Australian building sites between July and November this year as part of a SafeWork SA blitz targeting working from height.

SafeWork SA Executive Director Glenn Farrell said the number of recent incidents and prosecutions in relation to falls from heights in South Australian workplaces highlights that the risk is still not being given the attention it needs.

‘It is no small risk and the consequences are dire,’ he said.

‘In this context, general deterrence has a significant role to play in highlighting to employers the legal, financial and personal consequences of failing in this area.

‘Explicit priority should be given to workplace safety such that everyone develops and maintains a safety focus in relation to the tasks required of them.’

Source: SafeWork SA

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