In brief - Implement your WHS management plan to help minimise your risk exposure and maintain a safe work environment 

The Court's finding in SafeWork NSW v Freyssinet Australia Pty Ltd [2017] NSWDC 290 that a sub-contractor was guilty of failing to take reasonably practicable steps to ensure its workers' safety, is a timely reminder of the obligation for both principal contractors and sub-contractors to not only implement their Work Health and Safety Management Plans but to also act upon risks identified in the workplace inspection documents.  

Construction site worker suffers serious injuries as a result of falling from stairway missing mid-rail 

Where a number of workers utilise stairways and access ways on construction sites, who has the obligation to ensure that the stairways are safe for all workers? If the hand railing on a stairway is missing a mid-rail, does this create a risk to the workers?

In SafeWork NSW v Freyssinet Australia Pty Ltd, the Court found that the sub-contractor operating on a large construction site under a principal contractor, failed to take reasonably practicable steps to ensure that its workers were not exposed to a risk when descending a set of stairs at the construction site.

In 2015, a worker fell three metres whilst descending a set of stairs with no mid-rail. He landed on his head and suffered serious brain and head injuries. 

The Court found, in October 2017, there was no dispute that there was no mid-rail in place which created a risk. 

It was the finding of the Court that the sub-contractor failed to request the principal contractor to remedy the missing mid-rail and that it was reasonably practicable for the sub-contractor to direct its workers to not use the stairway until it was fixed. This finding is despite the fact that the sub-contractor was only one of a number of sub-contractors operating at the construction site.

Workplace inspection documents listing identified risks must be acted upon

Construction sites are a continually moving and changing environment where stairways and hand rails will be in place one day and moved the next to allow for particular construction work.

It is key in this type of environment that controls outlined in the Work Health and Safety (WHS) Management Plan for the construction project are relevant and meet the current regulatory requirements. Ensuring your WHS Plan meets the requirements is the first step.

Implementation of the WHS Plan is where the issues occur. It has been noted that Workplace Inspection documents will list a number of identified risks which may not be acted upon. These failings created a trail of safety failings that flow through each level of supervision to management and executives of both sub-contractors and the appointed principal contractor.

How principals and sub-contractors can minimise their safety risk exposure

Conducting a safety health check of your WHS systems and training in independent safety behaviours are key to maintaining an incident free workplace.

This is commentary published by Colin Biggers & Paisley for general information purposes only. This should not be relied on as specific advice. You should seek your own legal and other advice for any question, or for any specific situation or proposal, before making any final decision. The content also is subject to change. A person listed may not be admitted as a lawyer in all States and Territories. © Colin Biggers & Paisley, Australia 2024.

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