15 October 2021

Multiplex, RAR Cranes plead guilty after man killed by crane at UC Hospital worksite

| Albert McKnight
Crane at the UC worksite

The University of Canberra Hospital worksite on the night of 4 August 2016 after a crane toppled and killed 62-year-old Herman Holtz. Photo: ACT Policing.

Two companies operating at the worksite where an employee was killed in 2016 have pleaded guilty to their roles in his death and face up to $1.5 million in fines.

Herman Holtz, 62, died when a crane overturned and landed on him at the University of Canberra Hospital construction site in Bruce on 4 August 2016.

Multiplex Constructions was the head contractor for the site while the crane’s driver Michael Watts, who was sentenced over his role last year, worked for subcontractor RAR Cranes.

In the ACT Industrial Court on Thursday (14 October), the barristers for the companies, Garry Livermore QC for Multiplex and Dean Jordan SC for RAR Cranes, entered guilty pleas on behalf of their clients to charges of failing to comply with a health and safety duty which exposed a person to the risk of death or serious injury.

The maximum penalty is a fine of $1.5 million. Additional charges against the companies, as well as against three men, were dismissed.

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Multiplex has agreed to the facts detailing the case against it, but while RAR Cranes pleaded guilty, it has not yet agreed to the details that relate to the company.

According to the facts for Multiplex, a 10.3-tonne diesel-powered electrical generator had to be moved around the worksite to power a tower crane, so on the afternoon of 4 August 2019, the company contacted RAR Cranes requesting a crane for the job.

A site inspector working for RAR Cranes, who initially recommended a much larger crane, contacted his office and arranged for a 25-tonne crane to come to the site after discussions with Multiplex employees.

When Watts arrived with the crane, he did not do a full risk assessment of the lift, including checking the slope of the path he was going to take, which would have shown that the degree of the slope exceeded the crane’s abilities. There were other issues, such as how the proposed lift was outside the safe lifting capacity of the crane. Also, a counterweight was fitted in the wrong direction resulting in weight monitoring inaccuracies.

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Several people were standing around the crane at about 6:40 pm when it tipped to the right, with the gravity of the generator pulling it down. The tip of the crane’s boom hit Mr Holtz, crushing him into the ground and killing him instantly.

The facts say that when the crane tipped, it was overloaded to about 130 per cent of its rated capacity.

Watts had pleaded guilty to a charge of reckless conduct exposing persons to a risk of serious injury or death. In April 2020, he was sentenced to 12 months jail, fully suspended.

Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker said Multiplex would be sentenced on 10 November 2021 and RAR Cranes would be sentenced on 24 January 2022.

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