Multiple charges, including manslaughter and reckless conduct, have been laid in relation to the 2016 death of a worker on the construction site of the new University of Canberra Hospital in Bruce.
The charges have been welcomed by Unions ACT and noted as significant by the Government, and come after an extensive investigation by WorkSafe ACT and ACT Policing.
They also include failure to comply with a health and safety duty through the Work Health and Safety Act.
Charges have been laid against a number of operators, managers and supervisors who had responsibilities on the project.
Herman Holtz, 62, died on 4 August 2016 when a mobile crane was being used to move an 11 tonne generator on the site and overturned.
The Head Contractor on the project was Multiplex Constructions Pty Ltd and the subcontractor was RAR Cranes Pty Ltd. The crane driver has been charged with manslaughter while Multiplex and its site supervisor and site safety officer will face charges of reckless conduct as will RAR and the crane dogman.
Multiplex’s Chief Executive Officer will face a charge of failure to comply with a health and safety duty, as will its site manager and the RAR Managing Director.
The penalties for reckless conduct are $300,000 for an individual and/or five years imprisonment; for a duty holder $600,000 and/or five years imprisonment; and corporation $3 million.
For failing to comply with a health and safety duty, the penalty for an individual is $150,000; duty holder $300,000; and corporation $1.5 million.
Work Safety Commissioner Greg Jones said the extensive investigation into this incident gathered evidence that suggested significant and systemic failure to take into account the safety of the workers on the site.
“It is alleged that a number of people made several very poor decisions, repeatedly over a period of time, in undertaking that lift,” Mr Jones said.
“The evidence gathered under this investigation suggests that the risk of serious injury or death in what they were doing was obvious and readily apparent.
“However, despite the risks, they continued in their task which resulted in the mobile crane exceeding its design capabilities to such a degree that it overturned with tragic consequences.
“Based on the evidence obtained in relation to the circumstances surrounding this incident that resulted in the death of a person, a strong regulatory response is required and has been provided.”
Mr Jones said WorkSafe ACT, in close co-operation with ACT Policing, conducted an extensive and detailed investigation into the incident.
“The investigation was very complex and technical in parts,” he said.
“The brief of evidence was around 30,000 pages; included about 2000 photographs; had extensive video footage; used 3D computer modelling; and with nearly 150 witnesses potentially being identified.”
Mr Jones said the family of Mr Holtz had been informed.
“I personally informed them of the decision to lay charges this week and this remains a difficult time for the family and our thoughts remain with them,” he said.
Mr Jones said that the range of charges reflected the shared responsibilities under the Work Health and Safety Act, from the boardroom to the workers conducting the activity.
“All workers, employers, their directors and managers, both on site and in the office, must ensure that safety is the number one priority,” he said.
“A failure to have systems in place to protect the safety of workers can result in a catastrophic injury and loss of life.
“I urge every employer and manager on any worksite in the ACT and beyond to continually review their attitude to safety and to check systems and procedures to ensure every reasonable and practical measure is in place to protect the safety of workers.”
Unions ACT said the charges showed that CEOs and construction industry employers could not get away with disregarding safety.
It said the ACT was the least safe jurisdiction in Australia for construction workers, with an average of 42 construction workers injured every month and more than 600 serious injuries in the Canberra construction sector in 2016, the year of the fatality.
“After years of pushing WorkSafe, it is positive that they are finally taking a stronger line in prosecuting safety law violations,” said UnionsACT secretary Alex White.
“Ultimately employers are responsible for providing a safe workplace for their employees,” he said.
Minister for Health, Meegan Fitzharris said the family and the man who lost his life were in the Government’s thoughts, and she thanked WorkSafe and ACT Policing for their thorough and detailed investigation over the past 18 months.
“It is a significant announcement about these charges today. They are very serious. They go to the Government’s commitment to workplace safety,” she said.
She said the Government had been considering whether to continue working with the companies involved but no decision had been made yet.