Safe Work (NSW) v Action Concreting and Constructions Pty Ltd  NSWDC 191
The Action Concreting case is not one I used in my recent book, Paper Safe, but easily could have. It is another case where documented safety processes, in this case a safe work method statement, achieved a technical compliance outcome, i.e. meeting the requirement to have a safe work method statement, but added no value to the management of health and safety risk.
Keywords: Reasonably Practicable; Contractor Safety Management; Safe work method statement
Action entered into a contract with another company, Kazoo to carry out steel fixing and formwork on a multi-story construction project.
Kazoo was the principal contractor at the site and day to day supervision of the site was done by a director of Kazoo.
Action subcontracted with another company, Action Concreting Labour (ACL) to provide labour. ACL subcontracted with Mr Gaica to do several tasks, including formwork.
At the time of the incident, Mr Gaica had been working at the site for about a month.
Mr Gaica was working close to the edge of the first floor. No scaffolding, fall-prevention measures such as hand or guard railings, safety balustrades or other form of edge protection was in place on the first floor.
Mr Gaica was nailing down edgeboards and to get a better position, he placed his weight onto a timber beam which stuck out past the edge of first floor. Until the day before, the timber beam Mr Gaica stepped onto was supported by an Acro Prop. After a frame supporting the first floor had been moved, the Acro Prop was removed, and the beam was no longer supported. The beam tipped and gave way causing Mr Gaica to fall.
Action pleaded guilty to charges under health and safety legislation, and in sentencing the court considered the safety management systems in place at the time of the accident.
In relation to Kazoo, the Court noted:
Kazoo had a general safe work method statement for working at heights, but it was not site-specific and had been developed in relation to previous jobs carried out on other sites.
The safe work method statement identified scaffolding as a control for working at height stop
Site-specific risks and how they were to be managed had not been explained to the workers on site stop
No system existed to ensure the safe work method statement was followed.
No comprehensive training had been given to the workers in relation to the risks of working at height and how to reduce or minimise them.
The work was not conducted in accordance with the safe work method statement.
In relation to Action, the Court noted:
Action was aware of the risk posed by the lack of edge protection but did not prevent work from being carried out until it was addressed.
Action had a general safe work method statement for the site which identified the risk of working at height and identified scaffolding as the appropriate control measure.
The Court also noted that neither Action or Kazoo “ensured compliance with the fall protection measures identified in their respective [safe work method statements]” 
Unfortunately, there is nothing remarkable about this case. It is common, particularly in construction, to have general safe work method statements or JHAs to deal with a “class” of risks, such as working at height, excavation or lifting operations. However, what is often absent is planning, or communication about how the general hazard management strategies outlined in a safe work method statement or JHA will be applied to a specific task. These findings are very similar to the discussion from another case I have discussed, the Ferro Con decision.
The other consistent theme, over and above the inadequate nature of the document itself, is that the controls identified in the document are not implemented.
I think these types of cases represent are good examples of the disconnect between “process” and “purpose”. In the Ferro Con case, this disconnect was explicit in so far as the Court said the primary reason that Ferro Con had developed its safety systems, was to meet contractual requirements rather than manage the hazards associated with its work. Although there is no express finding in the Action Concreting case, it is not difficult to imagine the safe work method statements were developed, simply because the companies thought they had to have them.
The process – having a document to show a regulator or a client – had displaced the purpose – managing health and safety hazards on the site.
You can read more articles in the Safety Case(s) series HERE.
This article represents a general discussion about legal principles. It is not specific advice, and you should seek your own legal advice in relation to your specific circumstances.