Tree lopper fined $12,000 over fall from elevated work platform

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A Myaree tree lopper has been fined $12,000 (plus almost $1400 in costs) over an incident in which he and an employee were injured when an elevating work platform (EWP) they were using toppled over.

Gerald Shields pleaded guilty to failing to provide and maintain a safe work environment and was fined in the Rockingham Magistrates Court yesterday.

In May 2010, Mr Shields was contracted by the Department of Housing and Works to carry out tree cutting services, and was engaged in lopping tree branches in Medina using an EWP (commonly known as a cherry picker).

Mr Shields and an employee elevated the EWP booms to their full length to cut a limb from a tree, and when the lower boom was being lowered, the front passenger side stabiliser leg sunk into an old drain or soakwell.

The EWP toppled over and the boom struck the ground.  The two men were ejected from the bucket and landed on the roof of a nearby building.  Mr Shields suffered only minor scalp injuries, but his employee suffered a crush injury to his right wrist and forearm.

The court heard that the recommended spread plates were not used on the stabiliser legs on the soft ground, and that the safety interlock switch for the EWP was interfered with, allowing the boom to be elevated without the stabilisers being deployed, contrary to operating instructions.

It was also revealed that the men were not wearing safety harnesses or any other personal protective equipment (PPE) such as safety glasses or hearing protection, and that Mr Shields did not ensure that any of his employees used PPE.

Mr Shields had not carried out or ensured that adequate pre-start checks were carried out on the EWP, as evidenced by the facts that the safety interlock switch was taped down and that one of the controls was missing and had been replaced with a hammer.

WorkSafe WA Commissioner Lex McCulloch said today the case was a good example of an employer who completely disregarded the safety of his employees.

“This employer seems to have had absolutely no regard for his own safety or that of his employees,” Mr McCulloch said.

“There have been many instances in WA of EWPs tipping over, resulting in serious and critical injuries and deaths.  There were no safe systems of work in place for the operation of the EWP or for the protection of the employees.

“And even more condemning is the fact that a WorkSafe inspector conducted a workplace investigation six months after this incident and found that the safety interlock switch on Mr Shields’ replacement EWP had also been tampered with, this time being held down with a cable tie.

“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.”

Further information on safe systems of work for EWPs and the prevention of falls can be obtained by telephoning WorkSafe on 1300 307877 or on the website at

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


Media release
10 Sep 2012

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