Trench collapse prompts $480K safety spend

21 December 2023

Two companies involved with the development of the Gawler Rail Electrification Project in Adelaide’s north have agreed to spend more than $480,000 on safety improvements after a trench collapse that left a worker with serious injuries.

Following a SafeWork SA investigation, the workplace safety regulator has accepted an Enforceable Undertaking by Acciona Infrastructure Projects Australia Pty Ltd (Acciona) and civil engineering subcontractor SGP CIVIL Pty Ltd (SGP).

The incident in July 2021 occurred at the Rumble Road site in Dry Creek during the Gawler Rail Electrification Project (GREP).

Acciona was awarded the GREP contract in February 2018, with SGP having supervision at the Rumble Road site to excavate a trench to run conduit adjacent to the SA Power Networks Kilburn Distribution Substation and the rail corridor along Rumble Road.

On 6 July 2021, a worker employed by Patriot Environmental Management, which was contracted to conduct non-destructive digging works, was working at the Rumble Road site.

Utilising a “Vac Truck” and equipment, the worker conducted non-destructive excavation around the service pipework and entered the trench when it subsided, catching him unaware.

Pinned up against an existing water pipe when the trench wall collapsed, the worker sustained multiple spinal and rib fractures, laceration to the liver and a fractured pelvis.

While no prosecutions of the Work Health and Safety Act, 2012(SA) (the Act) have been brought, Acciona and SGP understand the characterisation of the allegations that could be made with respect to the incident and sought to enter into an Enforceable Undertaking.

Under the terms of the accepted Enforceable Undertaking, Acciona has agreed to make six work practice rectifications, and increase spending on safety with an estimated total minimum cost of $305,920.

The spend includes the Company sponsoring training in trenching awareness provided by the Civil Contractors Federation (CCF). The training will be made available to the industry in South Australia for two years and be accessible through the CCF website and newsletter.

Other enforceable terms over the next two years include:

  • delivery of trench awareness training across all projects led by Acciona in South Australia
  • delivery of an internal frontline leadership training program
  • in consultation with SafeWork SA, the preparation of an alert, to share with the civil and infrastructure industry highlighting the causes of the incident and preventative measures
  • sharing learnings from the incident, to benefit and promote safety within the construction industry, through CCF’s distribution channels.

Acciona will also make a donation to Beyond Blue and Cancer Council SA and deliver MATES in Construction Assist Training which will benefit construction workers.

SGP Civil will implement 11 work practice rectifications to deliver benefits to workers and three activities to benefit the civil construction industry, with an increased minimum total spend estimated at $174,145.

The rectifications include:

  • the appointment of a full-time safety manager to redevelop their WHS management systems and review WHS inspections
  • conducting detailed incident investigations
  • WHS training for senior management across the operations, project and site managers, engineers, supervisors and leading hands
  • implementing a safety software system with online and mobile access modes
  • creating regular safety reporting practice of WHS inspection regimes, including daily excavation and trench inspections
  • training and qualification of project engineers, site engineers, site managers and supervisors in accredited unit Install Trench Support (RIICCM210E) through an RTO provider
  • developing an excavation and trenching compliance education package for construction management and WHS students in partnership with UniSA, the University of Adelaide and TAFE SA.

SafeWork SA Executive Director Glenn Farrell said the two Enforceable Undertakings would have a direct impact toward improving worker safety through targeted education to workers and the industry and would also deliver benefits to the community.

‘An Enforceable Undertaking is the preferred Enforcement option in this case due to the opportunity to provide organisational change for the two companies involved,’ he said.

‘The implementation of monitored and targeted health and safety improvements that will also deliver benefits to workers, industry and the community, that may not have been achieved by prosecution.’

Prosecution is still an option in circumstances where a business does not fulfil the requirements of an EU.

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