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CASE SUMMARY: Safe Work NSW V Freyssinet Australia Pty Ltd [2017] (NSW DC290)

On 10 February 2015 Mr Oketi Felemi was walking down a stairway on a construction site. The landing of the stairway had timber hand rails, however Mr Felemi lost his footing and fell about 3 metres from the exposed open side ledge on the stair way onto the bottom landing of the stairs. Unfortunately, as a result Mr Felemi suffered serious brain and orthopaedic injuries. There was essentially no wall between the rail and staircase.

The company was charged with an offence under Section 32 of the Work, Health and Safety 2011. The charge related to breaching its duty of care in so far as the company was required to ensure it had taken reasonable steps to protect the health and safety of workers whilst they were on the construction site.

Paragraph 7 of the judgement handed down by the District Court of New South Wales addresses the main issue which was whether there was a foreseeable risk that injured workers could suffer death or serious injury by falling through gaps in their staircase between the hand rail and the stairs.

District Court Judge Kearns was satisfied to the criminal standard beyond a reasonable doubt that the company did expose Mr Felemi to a risk of serious injury and or death. The matter has been listed for sentencing hearing at a date into the future.

What this means for injured workers

Injured workers are of course entitled to a variety of workers compensation entitlements, and protections when injured in the course of their employment. Sometimes injuries can be devastating and life changing and other times negligence of the employer can be quite severe.

Whilst an injured worker can in the fullness of time depending on the severity of his/her injury bring a civil claim against the employer for their negligence, they may never feel they have received ‘justice’.

The injured worker can take solace in the fact that dangerous workplace practices or neglect are not considered to be acceptable and that SafeWork NSW can bring criminal charges against individuals and corporations whose actions have caused significant injury and or death to their employees.

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