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Are you waiting for a serious incident to tell you you’re just going through the motions with your policies and procedures?

Well this case may remind you of how easy it is to be lulled into a false sense of security. A NSW employer that failed to enforce its “comprehensive & sophisticated” OHS policies, or clearly label a butane pipe, has been fined $110,000, after a contractor suffered arm and head burns.

The Industrial Court heard that in February 2010, the Dolrow Pty Ltd (trading as B&G Concrete Sawing and Drilling-BGCSD) contractor was engaged by P&M Quality Smallgoods Pty Ltd (PMQS) to cut part of the concrete floor of a mezzanine level at its premises. He then proceeded to cut through a concrete nib wall, which he claimed he was instructed to do & required him to alter the guard on his cutting machine, before cutting through a pipe containing butane, causing a fire. To escape the fire, the worker was required to leap from the mezzanine level as the steps had been removed. He suffered burns to his left forearm and the top of his head. PMQS pleaded guilty to OHS breaches.

The Court heard that prior to the incident, PMQS had a “comprehensive & modern system for managing & monitoring OHS”, which included a risk management manual, an OHS management system, an emergency management plan, & a contractor’s guide to site safety. All workers & contractors received annual training in risk and contractor management, and managers received OHS risk management and assessment training. The court found however that PMQS had failed to undertake a risk assessment for the contractor’s task, & failed to tell him about risks he could encounter. It also failed to ensure the butane pipe was clearly labelled, colour-coded & isolated or disconnected before the task, & failed to ensure a temporary stairway was installed in the area. Justice Boland in circumstances where a contractor was cutting
concrete in the near vicinity of an unmarked pipe containing butane gas, the existence he was not informed of, it was reasonably foreseeable he might cut the pipe creating a serious risk to his safety & perhaps the safety of others. He also did suggest that PMQS’s comprehensive & sophisticated OHS policies & procedures were a mitigating factor in determining the fine. Where they fell down however was in the observance & implementation of its policies & procedures, which the Justice had commented was found to be so often the case in these prosecutions.

The worker’s conduct was also a mitigating factor, Justice Boland said. He rejected the worker’s claim that he had been instructed to cut the wall. The Justice suggested that if the worker had been instructed to cut the wall, he should have advised PMQS that he was unable to do so without unlawfully removing or altering the guard on his concrete cutting machine & therefore he should have declined to cut the wall. There was also no evidence that the worker undertook any risk assessment before undertaking the task of concrete cutting which he was clearly obliged to and if he had he may have discovered the existence of the butane pipe. Are you missing out on managing risk in a pile of ineffective paperwork?

Article by: Julie Armour –

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