Australian Builder Fined $880,000 in Fatal Collapse

"Floor collapses can be caused by overloading areas with construction materials, the new floor not being structurally completed, or the structural support elements being inadequate or altered. That is why it is critical that builders ensure the load-bearing capacity of floors under construction are known by everyone at the site," WorkSafe Victoria Head of Hazardous Industries and Industry Practice Michael Coffey said.

An Australian building company has been fined $880,000 this month for the death of a 21-year-old apprentice in a building collapse. Jacbe Builders Pty Ltd and its director, David Fergusson, pleaded guilty in Melbourne County Court to one charge each under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 for failing to provide and maintain a safe working environment; the company was fined $700,000 and Fergusson was fined $180,000, WorkSafe Victoria reported Sept. 6.

The collapse occurred in August 2013. According to evidence in the case, the company was hired to do carpentry work at an apartment complex under construction. "After the foundations had been laid at the site and a block wall built to just above the level of the first floor, Mr. Fergusson and his apprentice installed first floor trusses and laid the first floor. After this, the block wall was completed up to the second level. Mr. Fergusson and the apprentice returned to the site to begin carpentry work on the second floor. This included installing second floor trusses," according to the agency. "On 22 August, after the second-floor trusses were installed, a load of flooring sheets were delivered to the site, and Mr. Fergusson instructed a crane driver to lift and place them onto the second-floor trusses. It was estimated the flooring sheets weighed a total of 1.76 tonnes and, shortly after they were placed on the second floor, the trusses collapsed. They fell on to the first floor and then both floors collapsed to the ground. Both Mr. Fergusson and the apprentice were working on the second floor at the time of the incident. Both fell to the ground. Mr. Fergusson suffered a number of injuries, but his apprentice was trapped under the debris and died at the scene."

The building methods used by the company were a significant departure from acceptable safety standards, according to WorkSafe Victoria. Its head of Hazardous Industries and Industry Practice, Michael Coffey, said basic safety failures had resulted in the young man's death. "The company's complete failure to ensure work at the site was carried out in a safe way resulted in a young man losing his life for simply doing his job," Coffey said. "He put his trust in his boss, and his boss failed him in the worst possible way. And this young man's family has been left to grieve for a lifetime."

Coffey said understanding the load-bearing capacity of floors under construction is a basic skill. "Floor collapses can be caused by overloading areas with construction materials, the new floor not being structurally completed, or the structural support elements being inadequate or altered. That is why it is critical that builders ensure the load-bearing capacity of floors under construction are known by everyone at the site," he said. "Workers who are loading materials must be aware of the floor's limitations, including loading sequence or positioning requirements. This is particularly important when builders or contractors are using cranes to place bulk materials onto a floor or its trusses."

WorkSafe Victoria is currently conducting inspections focused on structural collapse at construction sites across Victoria.

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