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$750K in fines for "foreseeable" worker crushing death

Friday 05, Feb 2021

Lightforce Asset Pty Ltd and Civil and Allied Technical Construction Pty Ltd have been fined $750,000, with a statutory 40% discount applied for an early guilty plea, after a worker was crushed to death in South Australia by an industrial pile driver at a Port Augusta solar farm in 2018. Civil and Allied Technical Construction, known as Catcon, was contracted to assist building a solar farm, including installing metal piles for solar panels to be placed. Catcon subcontracted Lightforce Asset Pty Ltd (Lightforce) to supply machinery and a specialist operator for installation of metal piles. Lightforce sent an experienced operator to Port Augusta with an Orteco hydraulic pile driver.

Incident and investigation

On 17 February 2018, the operator was using the hydraulic pile driver to drive longer piles than originally designed to be installed by that pile driver. The operator opted to override the pile driver’s safety mechanisms to complete the task; while the modifications were made with the knowledge of a supervisor employed by Catcon, Lightforce had no knowledge of the modifications made by the operator, which were outside the agreed scope of works. After the modifications were made, the hammer jammed. While the operator was inspecting the pile driver, the hammer released and dropped onto the operator, crushing him and causing his death.

SafeWork SA investigators found that the Catcon supervisor was employed without the skills and knowledge required to manage the risk of safety to the worker when operating the pile driver. SafeWork SA Executive Director Martyn Campbell said the investigation was complex and required a protracted inquiry, due to the contracting and subcontracting arrangements. “It is imperative that Head Contractors manage their subcontracting parties,” Campbell said. “Contractors may delegate some responsibility but cannot delegate accountability for their work health and safety duties under the law.”

Fines

Catcon and Lightforce both pleaded guilty for breaching section 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA), by exposing a person to risk of serious injury or death. Each of these offences carried a maximum penalty of $1,500,000.

Catcon was issued a fine of $450,000 ($750,000 before applying a 40% discount), plus costs. Catcon failed to use a safe system of work to reduce the risk of injury, complete a hazard reduction analysis and risk assessment prior to performing the task, and prepare a safe operating procedure that related to the plant and tasks.

Lightforce was convicted with a $300,000 fine ($500,000 before 40% discount), plus costs, for failing to complete a hazard identification and risk assessment, to identify risk or injury. Lightforce also failed to ensure the operator worked within the guidelines of Safe Work Method Statements, and to maintain the pile driver as fit for purpose.

“Taking shortcuts to make machinery fit the task is fraught with risk,” Campbell said. “Properly assessing risk and getting the right tools for the task is critical. Focusing on critical controls should always be a priority.” When sentencing, Deputy President Judge Miles Crawley said he could not accept that the risk of injury was not “self-evident or foreseeable”.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/tuastonvilla