Landmark case sends warning to engineering firms

Farrell V Combe Pearson Reynolds Pty Ltd

Two engineering firms are the first in South Australia to be successfully prosecuted over an unsafe structural design, which led to two workers being injured when a roof structure collapsed.

The South Australian Employment Tribunal has fined Combe Pearson Reynolds Pty Ltd (CPR) and Jack Adcock Consulting Pty Ltd (JAC) a combined $70,000 over the incident in Angaston in November 2021.

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.

On 12 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 CPR. 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 Act with 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: s22 of the Act.

Both companies pleaded guilty in the SA Employment Tribunal.

CPR was convicted and fined $50,000 (but will pay $30,000 after discount) while JAC was convicted and fined $20,000 (but will pay $12,000 after discount).

In her judgement, Magistrate Eaton said:

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.

I accept that both had review procedures in place, but in the case of CPR they were not followed and in the case of JAC they were inadequate.

Attribute to SafeWork SA Executive Director Glenn Farrell:

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.

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.

SafeWork SA will not hesitate to investigate and prosecute businesses and individuals who fail to meet their work health and safety obligations.

In this particular case, it was fortunate that the two apprentices suffered only minor injuries – it could have been much worse.