In brief - Are your safety systems defensible and enough to protect your workers' safety?

In SafeWork NSW v The Austral Brick Co Pty Limited [2018] NSWDC 387, Austral Brick Co Pty Ltd (Austral Bricks) was found not guilty of an alleged breach of the Work Health and Safety laws of NSW.
 
Austral Bricks demonstrated to the Court that its contractor management safety system managed the risks, so far as reasonably practicable, for experienced roof plumbing contractors undertaking work on the roof area of a factory building.

SafeWork alleges breach of primary duty of care after investigating roof plumber's fall through factory roof 

An experienced and competent roof plumber had been engaged to undertake repair works to a box gutter on an old factory building. The roofing material was identified as corrugated asbestos sheeting. Signs on the roof stated:
 
WARNING
BRITTLE ROOF COVERING USE PLANKS OR LADDERS
IN EMERGENCY ONLY STAND OR WALK UPON LINES OF NAILS OR SCREWS
 
On the 30 January 2015, the experienced roof plumber has inadvertently walked onto a section of roofing that was not supported by purlins and fallen through, a distance of six metres to the floor below.
 
Following the investigation by SafeWork, prosecution proceedings were commenced in the District Court alleging a breach of section 19(1) of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

Prosecution fails to prove elements of the offence beyond reasonable doubt 

In defending the prosecution, Austral Bricks demonstrated to the Court how its contractor management system managed the safety of contractors at its site.
 
The Contractor management system involved the contractor moving through twelve steps. Each step required the completion of paper work. If the contractor could not complete steps 7 to 10, then the contractor is directed: "Stop Do Not Proceed."
 
The above steps included the completion of site induction, a Job Safety and Environment Analysis, working at heights permit, high risk work licences, permit to work form, and the final direction that if they had not completed any of the required steps or they had any concerns about the JSEA or safety, to contact various employees of Austral Bricks.
 
The Court found that it was not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that it was reasonably practicable on the facts of this case to have prevented the workers from working on the roof. 

Employers may wish to consider including additional safety steps to their contractor management system

A comprehensive contractor management system will provide a robust safety tool to ensure the safety of all workers as part of your business or undertaking.
 
Austral Bricks was found not guilty in facing the particular facts and reasonable measures as alleged by the prosecution in the proceedings.
 
To ensure that your safety systems are defensible, you may want to consider that some small additional steps be implemented to the above twelve steps to effectively avoid incidents occurring and remain out of the court systems.

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 2019.