Home Detention for Workplace Death

Last week a company Director, Rodney Bishop, of Steelcon Construction Ltd was sentenced to four months home detention after the death of a worker who was buried in a trench that collapsed. The company was also fined $56,000 and ordered to pay $212,320 reparations. 

The employee was clearing soil in a four metre deep trench that had been dug without any shoring up, it had been cut with vertical sides and not been battered, and there had been no geotechnical assessment of the site to check the stability of the soil before the work was done. The face of the trench collapsed burying the employee under an estimated eight tonnes of soil. WorkSafe’s Chief Inspector, Keith Stewart commented, “We know how to dig trenches safely – it’s not hard to take the necessary safety precautions.” Under these circumstances the penalties are hardly surprising. 

It is noted that this outcome is not a result of the changes to the Health and Safety legislation. This occurred under the current laws. 

The changes to the legislation do increase the level of fines and the possible prison terms, as well as making Directors and Board Members liable, and this is what has caught media attention. However underlying this are some helpful practical changes. There is a shift in focus from hazard spotting to managing critical risks. From a practical perspective this means businesses need to take some actions. In the first instance review your current health and safety practices. Rather than becoming overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task of managing health and safety, start with and prioritise the risks in your business that are most likely to cause the most serious harm. You and your team probably already know what they are. Write them down. The most important step is to then do what is “reasonably practicable” to prevent these from causing harm. 

Make health and safety part of your workplace culture. Lead by example, document your processes and talk to your staff regularly. Make health and safety a routine topic at team meetings, train and coach your staff and make it your business to know what is going on. Also check your reporting to Directors provides what they need too. 

If the thought of the fines (and jail) still don’t convince you, try to imagine telling the family of one of your employees that they have been seriously harmed or killed. If you haven’t taken steps yet, now is the ideal time to act. If you need help, give us a call. Make a difference, not a statistic.