Spike in the number of incidents on NSW worksites

Balcony falls, collapsed walls and cranes dangling off the side of high-rise skyscrapers are among a spike in horrific workplace incidents across NSW, at some of the state’s largest housing developments and infrastructure projects. These are the businesses which were responsible for some of the worst cases.

Rising numbers of construction companies are finding themselves in court after workers were seriously injured or killed at construction sites across NSW.

Latest figures show industry watchdog SafeWork NSW launched 100 prosecutions under Work Health and Safety laws in the last financial year, settling 59 prosecutions and netting a total of $4.1 million in fines.

The figures come as new laws passed by NSW Parliament this year have made it easier for SafeWork to prosecute cases and create a stronger incentive for construction companies to maintain building standards.

A construction company was fined after a crane collapsed at a high-rise building site, leaving three workers suspended above the streets of North Sydney.

The 18 tonne crane was set up on top of the 29-storey Meriton apartment building on Arthur St when it collapsed in September, 2016.

At a sentencing hearing in May this year, the NSW District Court heard Titan Cranes had sent a team of riggers to dismantle the crane when the structure malfunctioned and collapsed, causing the boom to dangle over the side of the 97m building.

The court heard three workers had been attached to the boom via harnesses when the crane “fell uncontrollably”.

One of the workers, Axel Tritton, managed to unclip his harness and climbed through the boom to assist in the rescue of his colleagues Corey Briggs and Shane Hetaraka.

All three workers sustained multiple injuries including fractured shoulders, a spinal fracture, dislocated fingers and a lung contusion.

Judge Andrew Scotting in his ruling found the company “failed to have a system (for the dismantling of the crane) approved by the manufacturer.”

“The workers each suffered some injury and Mr Briggs continues to have serious and ongoing difficulties as a result of the injuries he sustained,” Judge Scotting said.

Titan Cranes – which has also worked on developments in Barangaroo and the Northern Beaches Hospital – said it has made several changes to its safety systems in response to the incident including employing a Work Health and Safety Manager for its national operations.

The company pleaded guilty to failing to comply with the Work Health and Safety Act and was ordered to pay a fine of $390,000 along with $42,000 in court costs to SafeWork NSW.

Leslie Sloan died on his 91st birthday when he fell into an excavation trench dug by plumbers at a property in western Sydney.

Proflow Plumbing and Maintenance Pty Ltd was found guilty of breaching Work Health and Safety Act standards in October last year for not preventing the “foreseeable” risk of an accident during construction works at a home in Glenmore Park in July, 2017.

The NSW District Court heard Mr Sloan was found in the 1.5m-deep trench by a family member who had arrived to celebrate his father’s birthday.

Judge David Russell said the company failed to prevent the risk which “would have been recognised by a first-year apprentice.”

The company’s director Toufic El-Esh said safety procedures had been improved following the incident and offered his condolences in a letter to Mr Sloan’s family.

The company was fined $300,000, reduced from $400,000 to reflect its plea of guilty.

A building company and its subcontractors were fined a total of $620,000 in May this year after a man was killed and another injured when a brick wall fell on them at a Sydney construction site.

The two carpenters were working near the base of the wall at the Carlingford site in August 2017 when it fell in winds reaching 80kmh and trapped the workers in the rubble.

One of the workers, Quoac Thong Tran, 30, died at the scene despite the efforts of other workers, who dug frantically to free him, while the other suffered scratches to his face and was treated for shock.

NSW District Court Judge Andrew Scotting found the temporary supports for the wall were inadequate and there was no exclusion zone around the wall prior to its collapse.

“If a risk assessment was conducted it would have identified the risk that the wall could collapse and injure a person in the fall zone,” Judge Scotting said.

NSW Bricklaying Pty Ltd was fined $500,000, while contractors Effective Building and Construction Pty Ltd and WZY Developments director Jianen Wang were each fined $60,000 after pleading guilty to breaching the Work Health and Safety Act.

The construction companies behind Sydney’s newest motorway project were fined a total of $750,000 earlier this month after a worker was killed in an horrific workplace incident.

James Adams died after being struck by a pressurised piping system connected to a water treatment system during tunnelling works on the project between Wahroonga and West Pennant Hills in 2017.

At a hearing, the NSW District Court found Mr Adams was diverting flows from a full tank of water and sediment when an uncontrolled release of pressure forced him onto the guardrail of the operator’s platform causing “fatal crush injuries”.

Judge David Russell found Mr Adams was not provided with any specific information, instruction or training on potential hazards in the lead up to the incident.

“There were several reasonably practicable measures that could have been implemented to eliminate or minimise the risk. The injury, emotional harm, loss and damage caused by the offence was substantial,” Judge Russell said.

Joint-venture construction companies Lendlease and Bouygues pleaded guilty to breaching Work Health and Safety Act standards and were each fined $375,000.

Lendlease told the court it had provided a further $450,000 in financial support to Mr Adams’ family in the six months following the incident including contributions to his funeral and installing a memorial bench at the Wilson Rd site.

The death of a construction worker at a Lidcombe building site resulted in a Sydney company being handed a five-figure fine earlier this year.

Mohammad Ibrahim Ali­zada was killed in 2017 when he fell one floor from unsecured scaffolding and hit his head on a concrete balcony during the construction of a six-storey apartment complex in Anne St.

Hadcon Constructions pleaded guilty to failing to comply with the Work Health and Safety Act and was fined $90,000 in the NSW District Court in June.

The court heard Hadcon did not provide adequate information, training or instruction to all workers at the site, including Mr Alizada in the lead-up to the incident.

In sentencing, Judge Wendy Strathdee said the risk of a person falling through the defective scaffolding was “obvious and foreseeable”.

“Injuries on building sites are notorious – too many people suffer terrible injuries falling from ladders and scaffolding and through roofs and ceilings,” she said. “As a consequence of the injuries sustained by Mr Alizada in the incident, he lost his life.”

Judge Strathdee took into account the company’s plea of guilty, remorse and improved work systems following the incident.

A carpenter was killed when he fell from scaffolding and was impaled through the chest on a steel bar at a six-storey residential construction site at Ryde.

Sapform Pty Ltd was convicted on breaching the Work Health and Safety Act for the incident that resulted in the death of 55-year-old worker Iremar DaSilva in October, 2016.

At a hearing in April this year, the NSW District Court heard there were no handrails or catch decks in place to provide protections from falls and that works were not being done in accordance with accepted industry standards.

Judge Wendy Strathdee rejected arguments by Sapform that Mr DaSilva should have been aware of the risks due to his industry experience as a carpenter.

“The case presented by the defendant smacks of a deliberate attempt to blame someone else, and that because others were at fault, the defendant’s breach of duty is not as egregious as others,” Judge Strathdee said in her findings. Judge Strathdee pointed to the consequences of the company’s actions which exposed his workers to serious risk and the impact on Mr Da Silva’s family.

“The death of Mr Da Silva evidences as such and the loss and devastation his passing has caused his family, and in particular his son who was midway through his HSC examinations is enormous,” she said.

Sapform was fined $450,000, reduced from $600,000 to reflect the company’s guilty plea.

A concrete pumping company copped a $375,000 fine after one of its workers was killed in a horrific workplace incident.

NonAbel Concrete Pump Pty Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching Work Health and Safety standards after Souhayb Jamal was fatally struck by an unsecured hose attached to concrete pumping equipment at a development site at Wrentmore St in Fairfield.

The NSW District Court heard Mr Jamal, 27, was not wearing a hard hat when he was hit in the head by an air pressure hose in March 2017. He was taken to Fairfield Hospital but died two days later.

A co-worker told the investigation he heard a massive “boom” before he saw the concrete delivery hose whip around and strike Mr Jamal in the head, causing him to flip over and land on the ground.

At a sentencing hearing in March this year, Judge David Russell found Mr Jamal did not have a worksite induction and had not been given a direction to avoid a danger zone surrounding the hose.

Judge Russell noted NonAbel acknowledged it failed to comply with the duty to ensure the health and safety of its workers.

A worker was conducting plumbing works on a first-floor balcony when he fell four meters to the concrete below at a building site in Wiley Park.

Master Electrical Services Pty Ltd and its director Nicolas Tannous were convicted of breaching Work Health and Safety Act standards in June this year after plumber Antwan Sowmi was left with “traumatic injuries” including multiple skull and facial fractures and spinal injuries.

In handing down his sentence in June this year, District Court judge David Russell found the injuries Mr Sowmi sustained at the four-storey development on Ferguson Ave were preventable and that there was no edge protection such as scaffolding or a guard rail to prevent falls from the edge of the balcony.

In a victim impact statement, Mr Sowmi said he will never work in his chosen profession again due to his injuries and continues to experience severe neck pain, headaches and vertigo.

Master Electrical was fined $150,000 and Mr Tannous was fined $15,000.

Mr Tannous told the court he acknowledged the “very serious injury suffered by Mr Sowmi” and that workplace standards had been improved following the incident.

An engineering company was handed a six-figure fine following the dangerous and unplanned collapse of the former Sydney Entertainment Centre’s roof.

Grasso Consulting Engineers Pty Ltd and its director Ignazio Grasso, were found to have provided inadequate advice to the high-risk demolition project that resulted in two workers trapped inside an excavator in March 2016.

At a hearing in May, the District Court heard both workers narrowly escaped injury and that one of the workers managed to free himself from the excavator by kicking out a window of the vehicle.

Prior to giving the demolition advice, Mr Grasso failed to undertake relevant calculations or computer modelling to assess the risk of unplanned structural collapse of the roof, instead relying solely on fallible engineering judgment.

SafeWork NSW said the risks could have been minimised, if not eliminated, with proper analysis, planning and communication.

Grasso was convicted of breaching the Work Health and Safety Act and fined $200,000 and Mr Grasso a further $30,000 at the sentencing hearing in May this year.

A Sydney demolition company was fined $204,000 after a teenage labourer was run over by a 23-tonne excavator at a building site in East Killara.

The NSW District Court ordered Royal Demolition and Excavation Pty Ltd to pay the infringement on Friday following a SafeWork probe into the workplace accident at a residential development at 71-73 Koola Ave.

The court heard a 16-year-old labourer had bent over to tie his shoelace when he slipped and was run over by the excavator during ground levelling work at the site in May 2017.

He suffered serious injuries to his pelvis, internal organs, legs and hands and was taken to Royal North Shore Hospital and required further treatment to his legs, knees and back.

Judge David Russell said it was a “minor miracle” the teenager had been pressed into soft soil by the excavator as opposed to other ground material that could have resulted in him being “crushed to death” by the vehicle.

The court heard Royal Demolition breached workplace safety standards by failing to conduct adequate risk assessments including implementing an exclusion zone around the excavator while it was in operation.

The excavator was also found to be in poor condition, had broken mirrors on both sides and did not have a reverse alarm to warn workers of its movements.

Royal Demolition was convicted of breaching the Work Health and Safety Act and co-director Maher El Masri was also ordered to attend a due diligence course conducted by a registered training organisation within six months.

Source: Daily Telegraph

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