Engineering firms fined $70,000 after apprentices injured in roof collapse

Two engineering firms have been fined a combined $70,000 over an incident in which two apprentices were injured when the supporting columns for a roof they were working on collapsed.

The two companies, Combe Pearson Reynolds and Jack Adcock Consulting were fined in the South Australian Employment Tribunal over the incident, which occurred in Angaston in November 2021.

Two apprentices had started fixing sheeting to a cantilevered roof over a spectator terrace when four of the seven columns holding up the structure collapsed. Both apprentices suffered minor injuries when they slid down the roof sheets.

The construction was part of a redevelopment at Angaston Football Club.

A SafeWork SA investigation found the cause of the accident was a fault in the engineering design of the structure by Combe Pearson Reynolds. Bolts stipulated in the design to hold down the base plates of the columns of the spectator terrace were inadequate and did not meet the national construction code.

JAC failed to identify the fault during an independent compliance certification process.

SafeWork SA charged both firms under section 33 of the Work Health and Safety Actwith failing to comply with their health and safety duty. Businesses have a duty to provide a design that is safe for its intended use once built and also for the workers during the construction phase (section 22 of the Act).

Both companies pleaded guilty in the SA Employment Tribunal, and Combe Pearson Reynolds was convicted and fined $50,000 (but will pay $30,000 after discount) while Jack Adcock Consulting was convicted and fined $20,000 (but will pay $12,000 after discount).

In her judgement, Magistrate Eaton said that although human error was responsible for the fault in the original design drawing, it was the failure of the review processes that allowed that mistake to go undetected and result in the subsequent structural defect which caused the collapse.

SafeWork SA executive director, Glenn Farrell, said the decision – the first successful design-related prosecution by SafeWork SA – sends a warning to the engineering industry about their work health and safety obligations.

“SafeWork SA welcomes this important decision which puts engineers and designers on notice of the importance of their role in the ongoing safety to workers and the general public,” he said.

“The engineering industry plays a critical first step in the safety of those workers building structures, as well as the ongoing safety of those who may use or be around them.”