Bricklaying company fined $600,000 over worker trapped under collapsed staircase

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A Perth bricklaying company has been fined $600,000 (and ordered to pay $5000 in costs) after a worker suffered serious injuries when a concrete staircase collapsed on him.

Swinging Bricklayers Pty Ltd was convicted in its absence of failing to provide and maintain a safe work environment and, by that failure, causing serious harm to a worker and was fined in the Perth Magistrates Court last week.

On April 1 2019, four Swinging Bricklayers contractors arrived at the construction site for a secondary school in Alkimos.

Concrete stairs were required on two double-storey buildings, and the bricklayers were required to build load-bearing brick walls under them.

The stairs had been formed and poured and left in place to harden. When they had reached the appropriate strength, temporary steel propping had been installed to hold the stairs in place while the formwork was removed.

It was then the job of the bricklayers to construct load-bearing brick walls around the props and under the stairs. Once the walls had been constructed, the steel props could have either been removed or left as non-weight-bearing dead props.

The bricklayers removed the steel props from under one of the staircases without incident, then proceeded to remove the props from a second staircase.

The steel props were supporting the weight of that staircase, and when all or most of the props had been removed, the stair began to crack and within a few seconds collapsed onto one of the bricklayers.

An excavator had to be used to move the large piece of concrete under which the bricklayer was trapped, and he suffered a crushed pelvis and serious internal injuries that resulted in ongoing health issues.

Soon after the staircase collapse, the site manager and a carpenter working at the site ran to the other staircase and re-installed the steel props beneath it. This staircase had cracked and was later demolished and rebuilt.

WorkSafe Commissioner Darren Kavanagh said today the case was a tragic example of a lack of communication about the hazards involved in the work being done.

“Swinging Bricklayers knew of the hazard involved in removing the props from under the staircase but did not at any stage act to ensure that the workers were not exposed to that hazard,” Mr Kavanagh said.

“The bricklayers should have been provided with adequate information and instructions, and the company’s Safe Work Method Statement should have specifically identified the work that was required on the day of this incident.

“Swinging’s general manager, who was in charge of directing the workers, failed to conduct a risk assessment of the work to be completed on the day of the incident. If he had, he should’ve realised that the props were supporting the weight of the staircase.

“The main contractor changed the stairs from a pre-cast staircase that was assembled off-site then installed on pre-built load-bearing brick walls to a staircase that was moulded and poured on-site with the brick walls built underneath when the formwork was removed.

“The bricklayers had little or no experience of working with staircases built in-situ, and were never warned not to move the props because they were holding up the stairs, an omission that proved to be devastating for the injured worker.

“This incident involved serious deficiencies in risk assessment, communication and instruction throughout, and Swinging Bricklayers have been held to account.”

Merym Pty Ltd – trading as EMCO Building – was the main contractor for construction of the school. EMCO has also been prosecuted over the incident and will go to trial in late July.

Media Contact: Caroline De Vaney 6251 2363 or 0408 927563 (media queries only).

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Media release
15 Feb 2023

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