A roof tiling company’s failure to install fall protection on a Rowville house resulted in an apprentice falling 2.4 metres to the ground and a fine representing one third of its annual profit.

The 2010 incident led to a WorkSafe investigation, prosecution and a $7500 fine imposed at the Dandenong Magistrates Court on 16 February. The company, DC Roof Tiling, was also ordered to pay court costs of $2,894.52.

The Bayswater-based company pleaded guilty in the Dandenong Magistrates Court to one charge of failing to provide or maintain systems of work under Section 21(1)&(2)(a) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

WorkSafe told Dandenong Magistrate Gerard Bryant that on 13 March 2010, the director of DC Tiling, three apprentices and a sub-contractor were replacing roof tiles on a storm-damaged house.

An apprentice was carrying buckets of cement up a ladder to the roof where the director was working and although it was 2.4 metres from the footpath to the top of the gutter, guard rails were not installed.

Once on the roof, the apprentice lost his footing and fell to the ground. Although he was not injured from the fall, wet cement splashed into his eye.

The injured apprentice was later driven to hospital by the business owner’s girlfriend and he was later transferred to the Eye and Ear Hospital. He lost sight in his left eye and spent 12 days there.

The court was told the fall and the splashing of the wet cement into his eye was not responsible for the loss of the eye, but set off what Magistrate Gerard Bryant called a chain of events that led to it.

He said the $7500 fine would be a serious impost on a small business that made only a ‘modest profit’.

The acting director of WorkSafe’s Construction Division, Allan Beacom, said the provision of safe systems of work, including fall protection, was among the most fundamental of construction industry safety measures.

“It is enormously frustrating that this most fundamental of issues in construction work, and roof tiling in particular, must still be a focus of WorkSafe’s law enforcement activity.

“Despite WorkSafe inspectors issuing notices requiring safety improvements or outright prohibiting dangerous work and many prosecutions there is still a core of people in this industry who think the law does not apply to them or that a particular situation does not require compliance.

“The outcome in this matter was a very serious injury to a young worker who was owed a much higher duty of care by his employer.

“Apart from the many deaths that have happened as a result of falls from height, the risk of brain damage, ending up in a wheelchair, broken bones or other injuries is high if fall protection is not used.

“In this case the company knew or should have known that the work being undertaken was high risk construction work requiring fall protection.