5 April 2024

CFMEU blasts sentence after painter left paraplegic by 6-metre fall, calls for judicial reform

| Albert McKnight
union official in hi-viz giving a speech outside Parliament House

CFMEU ACT Secretary Zach Smith has called on the government to update judicial guidelines on certain offences. Photo: CFMEU.

The CFMEU has blasted the sentence handed to an employer convicted after his painter became paraplegic, demanding the ACT Government implement new judicial guidelines for such offences.

Earlier this week, the ACT Magistrates Court sentenced Karl Allred of First Class Painting to a three-year good behaviour order and told him to create a safety video for use in the construction industry, taking into account guidance from WorkSafe and the court’s remarks.

On 9 June 2020, Allred brought a fall arrest roof kit comprising ropes and harnesses to his worksite in Kingston and demonstrated how to use it to his employees before leaving to get another ladder.

One of his painters then set up a “dodgy” ladder against a two-storey townhouse before it slipped when he was using it.

He fell onto a balcony roof before falling about 5.7 metres onto the ground and was left with spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries. He will be a paraplegic for the rest of his life.

Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker said by failing to provide enough training and supervision, Allred’s workers were exposed to the risk of falling from the balcony roof. This was a real risk as it materialised about an hour after he left the worksite.

Painters seen on the unsafe ladder (left) and the scene after the ladder failed and the victim fell. Photo: Tendered to court.

Allred had already made one safety video before he was sentenced, in which he claimed his victim had been on the roof “to try and impress me”.

His barrister, Steven Whybrow, told the court that his client hadn’t been “victim-blaming” in the video but had been pointing out that everybody had a role to play in safety.

After the sentencing, CFMEU ACT Secretary Zach Smith said Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury needed to act.

“A worker is now paraplegic for life, and the only consequence for the boss is being ordered to have another go at making a safety video after a disgraceful and offensive first try,” he said.

“Canberrans will be rightly appalled with this outcome given it’s so wildly out of step with community expectations.

“There’s something gravely wrong with the system when a boss admits to exposing a worker to serious injury, makes a victim-blaming video and then winds up without even a fine.”

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Mr Smith said Allred claiming that his worker was trying to impress him was “sickening”.

“The Attorney-General must urgently update judicial guidelines so a so-called penalty like this is never handed out again,” he said.

“WorkSafe’s resources shouldn’t be poured into helping guilty bosses make videos masquerading as some sort of contrition for unconscionable behaviour.

“A decent regulator must do everything in its power to make sure dodgy bosses cop the full whack.”

Karl Allred (left) leaves court with his barrister Steven Whybrow last year. Photo: Albert McKnight.

Mr Rattenbury said the role of the ACT Legislative Assembly with respect to sentencing is to set maximum penalties for criminal offences that are consistent with community views and which reflect the relative seriousness of the offences.

“Maximum penalties send a signal to the courts about the seriousness of these offences. However, the sentences actually imposed within the sentencing ranges available should, and do, remain a matter for the courts,” he said.

“The courts must take into account the objective nature of the offending, the seriousness of the offence, the subjective circumstances of the offender, and treatment of similar matters by courts in the past.

“It is a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to decide if a specific sentence should be appealed on the basis it is manifestly inadequate.”

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The court heard that, tragically, several years after the ladder incident, Allred’s daughter was in a car crash with a logging truck, rendering her paraplegic as well.

Also, the 64-year-old’s business is now effectively defunct, and he has a limited financial capacity to pay a fine, while at least five family members are heavily dependent on him.

After being contacted over the CFMEU’s concerns, a spokesperson for WorkSafe ACT said their organisation was committed to ensuring healthy and safe workplaces for ACT workers.

“We will continue to ensure safe, fair, productive working lives for Canberrans and will investigate and prosecute employers who disregard the safety of workers in line with our compliance and enforcement policy,” the spokesperson said.

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