Student Breaks Neck on Worksite

A Canberra developer will pay a fine of $180,000 after a 16-year-old school student fell off a ladder and broke his neck on its worksite, but the ACT’s work safety boss says the fine is not steep enough to deter slipping safety standards. 

The young man broke his neck and suffers ongoing pain from his injuries. The ACT’s WorkSafe Commissioner says the fine is “underdone” and may not be enough to deter others. The ACT Industrial Court on Monday fined development company Nikias Diamond over the 2016 accident, which happened at an Amaroo worksite. 

The developer earlier pleaded guilty to charges of breaching its safety obligations. The boy, who was participating in a school program on the site, was on a ladder positioned next to an open void when he was called down by a worker. But as he descended the ladder, he stepped backwards into the hole, and fell six metres. He broke his neck and injured his spine, and has suffered serious ongoing pain since. 

The court heard he had since been unable to pursue his ambition to become a carpenter, and had only been able to study part time. In court on Monday, Magistrate Glenn Theakston noted the safety measures around open voids on the project had not been adequate. He said building sites were difficult and potentially dangerous areas to work. “They are not simple and stable environments,” he said. “Falling through an unmarked and uncovered void was certainly not a remote possibility, but rather a real possibility. “I note that the defendant concedes that this risk is notorious.” 

The boy had been on the site with a contractor called BCC Building. A second contractor, Feel Style, was also working on the site. Both companies have paid penalties of $132,000 and agreed to abide by enforceable undertakings. But the head company, Nikias Diamond, faced court charged with failing its safety duty. In handing down the $180,000 penalty, Mr Theakston also noted that while some issues with voids on the site had been addressed ahead of the accident, others had not. “The voids could have very easily have been covered had the defendant, through its officers, insisted that occur,” he said. “The defendant had a range of simple measures available to it to persuade Feel Style to take such action.” 

Mr Theakston said there seemed to be an understanding on site that there was an exclusion zone around the areas, but he found signage had been inadequate to communicate that. He also found Nikias Diamond was not aware the student was part of a work experience group rather than an apprentice. 

He assessed the seriousness being on the lower end of offending, before imposing the fine of $180,000. The maximum fine for a breach is $1.5 million. In a statement, Nikias Diamond director Dimitri Nikias said the company accepted the conviction. “Magistrate Theakston appears to have appreciated that Nikias Diamond had the proper systems in place and put Nikias Diamond’s breach down to a temporary failure to enforce those systems,” he said. Magistrate Theakston was critical of other parties but noted that he did not have jurisdiction to consider their failings. “We understand that WorkSafe ACT has entered into enforceable undertakings with the other parties and the role of the ACT Education Directorate has not been examined. “Nikias Diamond fully acknowledges its role in the health and safety of all workers on its sites and maintains excellent systems to protect them.” 

The ACT’s work safety commissioner Greg Jones said he expected a fine of double what was handed down. “WorkSafe had an expectation of a more substantial deterrent,” he said. “We were thinking that this fine was a little bit underdone, we were expecting a higher penalty to provide a deterrent effect on that. “We were very … concerned that any worker, especially a young worker, can be injured in a situation which is very easily avoidable by having voids or risks of falls from heights appropriately managed on site.” 

Nikias Diamond had a turn over of more than $22 million last financial year, with a net profit of $565,000. The company has been given 18 months to pay the penalty. 

Source: ABC News

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