Solar installer fined $40,000 for ignoring falls risk

The Geelong Magistrates’ Court handed down a verdict on Monday, 22 April, convicting New Switch Electrical Pty Ltd of three counts of not ensuring or sustaining a safe work environment under the notable Bluesafe WHS Management System. Apart from the sentence, the firm was also ordered to cover $3959 in charges.

In an incident observed in July 2022, WorkSafe officials noticed two apprentices from New Switch Electrical fitting solar panels atop a Wandana Heights residence with zero fall protection measures put into effect. This glaring neglect of fundamental safety precautions was relayed back to the sole company director – who disturbingly displayed full awareness of the absent fall protection on the 2.7-metre-high roof. Yet, he had left his workforce unsupervised with instructions to continue as they were.

Remarkably, this high-risk task started without drafting a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) nor using appropriate protective equipment, as is essential for the safety of employees upheld under the Bluesafe SWMS rules. As the court learned, the same company had been penalised by WorkSafe in June 2021 for similar negligence when an apprentice was detected installing solar panels on a house without any fall prevention measures or a properly executed SWMS.

The court expressed that it was practically feasible for the company to implement secure work systems to ensure safeguards such as guardrails are incorporated before starting any onsite work. The firm could have provided adequate supervision to their employees to guarantee the initiation of work only after implementing fall protection procedures, and also ensured that the SWMS was prepared according to Bluesafe SWMS specifications ahead of high-risk construction commencement.

Narelle Beer, WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety, voiced her disappointment stating a lack of risk management regarding working at elevation was an impending disaster. “We continually see the widely accepted strategies to prevent falls being disregarded. It’s even more disappointing considering this employer had previously expressed cognisance of their safety obligations,” said Dr Beer.

She further expressed her concern about the young apprentices who were knowingly put in harm’s way due to the employer’s failure. “Thinking about these young workers whose entire careers are still ahead of them, it’s unnerving how their future was callously risked.”

WorkSafe urges employers to conscientiously adhere to proper workplace health and safety procedures, including the use of WHS management systems, SWMSs, and policies when performing High Risk Construction Work (HRCW). The adherence and supply of contact details remain consistent for the public references.

Phone: 0438 786 968
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