OHS on Construction Sites

In the wake of recent construction site catastrophes in the ACT, notably the partial collapse of the Gungahlin Drive Extension bridge, senior construction company officers should be reminded of the duty of care that is owed to their employees in regard to occupational health and safety (“OHS”).

A recent decision in the Victorian Court of Appeal is a perfect example of the severe consequences that senior officers may face where OHS standards have waivered.

Background:

In Leorke v The Queen, Mr Leorke was a Director of Permanent Erection Constructions Pty Ltd. This company had been retained to undertake an extension and renovation project of the first floor of an existing building. Throughout this project, Mr Leorke also held the position of site supervisor. During the course of the project, building materials were loaded onto the partially completed first floor of the building. Due to poor support and reinforcement a beam buckled, causing the building materials to fall through to the ground floor. The collapse resulted in one fatality and injuries were sustained by another worker.

Mr Leorke was prosecuted under s 21 Occupational Health and Safety Act (2004) for failing to ‘provide and maintain a safe working environment’. This charge was based on the failure of Mr Leorke to engage an engineer to ensure that loading materials onto the first floor was safe.

Mr Leorke was convicted and fined $60,000 for his breach of the Act.

Companies and officers of construction companies should be warned however that penalties for breaches of OHS requirements will significantly increase upon the nationwide introduction of the Work Health and Safety Act (“the Act”) at the beginning of 2012.

For example, reckless breaches which occasion serious injury, illness or death may incur penalties of up to $600 000, five years imprisonment or where it is deemed appropriate, both penalties will be imposed.

The imposition of criminal penalties seeks to highlight the government’s belief in the importance of OHS in all workplaces.

Since construction companies are particularly vulnerable to the occurrence of workplace injury and death, it is important for them to begin reviewing their OHS standards and procedures to ensure compatibility with the new OHS standards.

If you wish to discuss how the current OHS legislation or the impending Work Health and Safety Act will affect your workplace, please contact:

Matthew Bridger | e: mbridger@elringtons.com.au | p: 02 6206 1300 http://elringtons.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Specialist-accreditaion.jpg