Electrical retailer fined $90,000 over fall death

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The operator of a Betta Electrical and Gas store has been fined $90,000 over the 2010 death of a female worker who fell 2.75 metres through the ceiling of their Mandurah store.

Personal Buying Service Pty Ltd - trading as Betta Electrical & Gas - pleaded guilty to failing to provide and maintain a safe work environment and, by that failure, causing the death of a worker, and was fined in the Mandurah Magistrates Court yesterday.

The store - which closed following the incident - comprised a large warehouse with a showroom covering most of its floor area.

The ceiling of the showroom section of the premises was built at a height of 2.75 metres, about half the height of the warehouse. Part of the void between the showroom ceiling and the warehouse roof at the rear of the building was used to store stock and boxes.

Prior to 2007, a small section of the showroom ceiling had been used to store boxes. However, this had caused the ceiling to sag and a chipboard shelf had been built at the rear of the showroom on which to store boxes.

The shelf was not designed for people to stand on - it was intended only for the storage of empty boxes - but staff believed they had been required to stand on the shelf from time to time to retrieve boxes.

Access to the shelf was via either a 1.8 metre ladder, by standing on boxes of stock such as fridges or by placing a two-step ladder on top of boxes of stock.

In September 2010, two store workers went to the rear of the store to look for a washing machine box, which they found positioned half on the shelf and half on the showroom ceiling.

The male worker could not reach the box from his position on top of a fridge box, so the female worker placed the step ladder on top of an empty box and climbed onto the shelf to pass down empty boxes.

The female worker fell through the showroom ceiling onto the showroom floor, suffering fatal injuries as a result.

WorkSafe WA Commissioner Lex McCulloch said today the case should serve as a reminder that safe work procedures must be in place, especially when there is a risk of a worker falling from height.

"This case is a tragic example of a business that did not provide a safe work environment for its employees and, as a result, a worker lost her life," Mr McCulloch said.

"The employer had an obligation to provide a safe method of storage for the empty boxes, along with a safe method by which employees could access them.

"Falls are a significant cause of workplace death, and 16 Western Australian workers have died as a result of falls in the last four years.

"Falls are almost always readily preventable, and it need not be difficult or costly to ensure that safe systems of work are in place at all times.

"A Code of Practice on fall prevention has existed in WA for more than 20 years. The current code is comprehensive, providing information on the identification of common fall hazards and including the appropriate selection and use of ladders.

"I urge any employer in control of a workplace that presents a risk of falls to ensure safe systems of work are in place and that this code is available in the workplace at all times."

Further information on the prevention of falls can be obtained by telephoning WorkSafe on 1300 307877. The Code of Practice on the Prevention of Falls in Workplaces can be downloaded at no cost from the WorkSafe website at www.worksafe.wa.gov.au.

Media contact:
Caroline De Vaney
9327 8744 or 0408 927563 (media enquiries only)

Follow @WorkSafeWA on Twitter

Media release
31 Jul 2012

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