3 April 2024

Employer sentenced after painter left paraplegic by 6-metre fall from 'dodgy' ladder

| Albert McKnight
Painters from First Class Painting on the unsafe ladder, and after the ladder failed and the painter fell

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

An employer hadn’t adequately trained his painting crew before leaving them to work unsupervised, after which one fell almost 6 metres off a “dodgy” ladder and was rendered paraplegic for life.

Karl Allred of First Class Painting was charged over the incident and then had his sentencing adjourned from last September so he could make a safety video with WorkSafe outlining the experience.

However, on Wednesday (3 April), the ACT Magistrates Court heard WorkSafe, the workplace health and safety regulator, had declined to be involved, leaving him to create one himself.

“Certainly, it’s not going to win an Oscar,” his barrister, Steven Whybrow, said.

In the video, Allred claimed his victim had been on the roof “to try and impress me” and said, “Everybody gets complacent”.

“If you see someone doing something silly, pull them up about it,” he said.

Prosecutor Sofia Janackovic said it was “quite surprising” that much was said about the failings of workers in the video but little about the failings of a person running a business.

Mr Whybrow said the video aimed to send “a blunt message” to young people starting in the industry because they would be the ones most likely to see training videos.

READ ALSO Alleged abuse survivor can reopen case due to Catholic Church’s ‘unjust’ settlement

Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker did think such a video could have a powerful impact on the industry, as hearing from a person who had been through a process like this would be effective.

The prosecutor spoke to WorkSafe and confirmed the regulator would provide input and feedback for any future video.

Allred had employed a then-58-year-old Brazilian man to work as a painter who, other than holding a general construction induction card, did not have any other qualifications.

His business was subcontracted to paint a two-storey townhouse complex in Kingston in 2020. The victim was the only person in his painting crew who could speak English.

The crew was unqualified and uncertified. They relied on the victim translating instructions from Allred, who was the foreman and in charge of the site.

two men leaving court

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

On the morning of 9 June 2020, he brought a fall arrest roof kit comprising ropes and harnesses to the site and demonstrated how to use it before leaving to get another ladder.

The victim then set up what is described as “a deficient double ladder configuration” by tying two ladders together. He wasn’t wearing his safety harness and had got onto the ladder to climb back down from the roof when it slipped.

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 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.

The magistrate said employers must take steps to protect their workers; however, she noted that Allred didn’t expect they would set up a “dodgy” ladder themselves.

She also noted WorkSafe had brought the legal proceedings against him just three days before the opportunity to do so expired.

READ ALSO Aged care worker stole $76,000 from employer, ‘vulnerable’ residents, to use on pokies

Allred’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.

At his sentencing hearing last year, the court heard that, tragically, several years after the incident, Allred’s own daughter was in a car crash with a logging truck, rendering her paraplegic as well.

Allred pleaded guilty to and was convicted of a charge of failing to comply with a health and safety duty, exposing a person to the risk of death or serious injury.

The 64-year-old was sentenced to a three-year good behaviour order and must create another safety video for use in the construction industry, taking into account guidance from WorkSafe and the court’s remarks.

“WorkSafe ACT supports any effort to improve the awareness of work health and safety in order to prevent work-related injury, death and disease,” a spokesperson for WorkSafe ACT said.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.