A Sydney building maintenance unit (BMU) service company has been fined $300,000 by SafeWork NSW after two workers were left permanently disabled after a window-cleaning platform fell 30 metres in 2015.
The NSW District Court penalised Building Maintenance Unit Service after an investigation revealed the company had failed to carry out a $2000 10-year major inspection of the window-cleaning platform, which fell 12 storeys on 20 October 2015.
David Wilson and Edwin Acero-Castellanos were cleaning windows on the platform outside the Australian Stock Exchange building on Pitt Street when the platform collapsed.
During the fall, the platform fell onto one side, with Wilson landing on the awning while inside the platform and Castellanos going over the edge of the awning, hanging by his safety harness.
Wilson sustained fractures to his right shoulder, right tibia, left knee, ribs, jaw and teeth, as well as head and spinal injuries and a punctured lung. Castellanos sustained a spinal fracture with spinal cord decompression, a fractured ankle and a dislocated finger.
The court heard that the platform collapsed because the right hand bolt within the connection box fractured, causing a sudden transfer of load to the left hand bolt which then became twisted and also failed. The fracture was the result of extensive cracking in each of the bolts, caused by recurring cyclical loading of the plant during operation.
In the 12 months prior to the incident, four inspections of the platform were carried out. They did not record any issues about cracking in the load bearing bolts.
Judge Andrew Scotting described the offence as one of some objective gravity.
“The injuries sustained by Mr Wilson and Mr Castellanos were substantial and have left them both with permanent disability,” he said.
“Mr Wilson suffered bleeding on the brain and was placed in a medically induced coma. He has experienced memory loss and mood changes. He has had a shoulder reconstruction, suffered a broken jaw and broken teeth requiring more than 30 dental visits. His right leg was broken and required internal fixation. He suffered broken ribs, a punctured lung and a right wrist injury.
“Mr Castellanos describes experiencing severe back pain, humiliation and depression. I will not set out the matters he stated in the VIS [victim impact statement] to save him further embarrassment, but I consider those matters to be substantial and life changing. The incident has placed his family under considerable financial strain.”
Judge Scotting reduced the original fine of $400,000 to $300,000 after the Building Maintenance Unit Service pleaded guilty.
The maximum penalty for the offence is $1.5 million.
Judge Scotting said the risk was reasonably foreseeable and actually known.
“The offender [Building Maintenance Unit Service] knew that the BMU [platform] has not undergone a major inspection and that such inspection was well overdue.
“The means of preventing the risk were simple and inexpensive. The offender could have refused to set up the BMU until it had been properly inspected.”
While SafeWork NSW cannot comment on judicial proceedings, a spokesperson told INCLEAN that the health and safety of workers should remain a business’s top priority.
“SafeWork will continue to investigate and prosecute matters where workers’ health and safety have been seriously put at risk.”
The court heard Building Maintenance Unit Service cooperated with the investigations of SafeWork NSW following the incident.
In response to the incident, the Building Maintenance Unit Service modified its systems of work, encouraging employees to tag out equipment if they had safety concerns; introducing an app for service technicians to streamline inspections and avoid paperwork being lost or not actioned and implementing a database which reminded service technicians when an annual or 10 year inspection is due.
Building Maintenance Unit Service also implemented general safety alerts to all employees, an updated WHS policy, a Cloud-based system containing safety and equipment information, and a monthly checklist for safety equipment and quality assurance forms/registers.
Building Maintenance Unit Service mandated that all holdings bolts contained in the BMUs it serviced be checked and replaced. In addition, any BMUs which were becoming due for a 10-year major inspection were to be tagged out until further testing could be undertaken.
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