If you are in the construction industry, and in particular build
pre-cast and tilt-up concrete wall panels, or have contracted
someone to build for you, you should review your operations and
rectify any safety issues immediately.
Work Health and Safety Queensland has issued a safety alert
highlighting the potential risks associated with the installation
of concrete wall panels and outlining steps to address these risks,
following the deaths of two construction workers on the $37m
Brisbane Racing Club infield redevelopment in October. Yesterday,
Queensland Police took the unusual step of arresting and charging
an employer, Mr Claudio D'Alessandro, with manslaughter.
The workers were crushed between two concrete wall panels,
weighing 11 tonnes, which fell over while one panel was being
lifted into place by a crane. Work Health and Safety Queensland is
still investigating the incident, and further prosecutions could
follow, but the Government has already announced an audit of the
State's work health and safety laws.
Although the Safety Alert was issued by Work Health and Safety
Queensland, regulators across the country will be paying attention
to the progress of this investigation, and anyone involved in a
construction project at the moment should be reviewing their own
operations, wherever they are.
Concrete panels: identifying the risks
The alert suggests that incidents like the one at Eagle Farm can
the panels are not properly restrained at their base or because
they are not properly braced across their face;
the panels are knocked by other panels or by lifting
workers do not have adequate means of escape from falling
panels; and / or
inadequate work procedures and environmental factors (eg. wind
or soft ground).
Mitigating the risks of concrete panels
To minimise the risk and prevent serious incidents, you need
detailed planning tailored to your project. For example, you might
need to develop a work plan that allows the panels to be installed
or adjusted without having the workers in a pit, or design
restraints to minimise the need for workers to manually manipulate
The Alert says that control measures to prevent pit collapse are
essential; it suggests that this should be managed with the
assistance of a geotechnical engineer.
If you're conducting a business or undertaking in the
construction industry, you should also be aware of and comply with
your obligations under the:
Tilt-up and Pre-cast Construction Code of Practice 2003
Work Health Safety Act 2011 (Qld); and
Work Health and Safety Regulations 2011 (Qld);
or the equivalents in your State or Territory.
Risk mitigation more generally
Bear in mind that under the law, organisations are required to
take a risk-based approach to safety. While alerts and codes of
practice set out best practice approaches to reduce risk,
organisations must still consult with their workers, health and
safety representatives and sometimes external consultants in order
to identify and appropriately manage risk.
If you are engaging contractors to perform construction work,
organisations should also ensure they have appropriate contractor
management systems in place to comply with the organisation's
duties to subcontractors and their workers.
Review your operations - and get ready for more
For anyone involved in construction in Queensland (which
includes engaging a construction company), the effect of this
prosecution and Safety Alert is clear: review your operation
immediately. A proper risk assessment should include an assessment
of all foreseeable hazards, including less obvious ones like access
and egress, fatigue, and impairment.
Even if you are not in Queensland, regulators will be paying
close attention to the Safety Alert and could issue a similar one,
or step up their own enforcement activities, so would be wise to
run the rule over your own operations now.
More generally, these incidents highlight how important it is
for duty holders to identify risks to their workers and others and
take all reasonable steps to ensure a safe workplace, particularly
in dangerous industries such as construction.
They also could usher in significant changes to work health and
safety laws. After the deaths at the Eagle Farm Racecourse and the
Dreamworld amusement park, the Queensland Government has announced
it will audit the State's work health and safety laws, and
consider introducing a new offence of gross negligence causing
death and increasing penalties for workplace-related deaths and
injuries. Again, regulators elsewhere will be paying close
attention to these developments.
Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide
commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon
as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular
transactions or on matters of interest arising from this bulletin.
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