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A$65,000 fine for crane company

Sydney, Australia based Stephensons Cranes has been fined A$65,000 and ordered to publicise the facts of the case, after a young man was seriously injured after a fall and being crushed by a load of timber flooring.

The New South Wales industrial relations commission’s justice Francis Marks also ordered Stephensons Cranes of Arndell Park, to advertise details of the case at its own cost in The Daily Telegraph, the Construction Contractor and Crane Lift.

WorkCover operational health and safety division general manager John Watson said: “The incident could have been prevented and serves as a warning to the construction industry.”

"This incident has had far-reaching consequences for the apprentice, whose health and lifestyle will be badly affected for many years to come due to the injuries he received" added Watson.

The then 19 year-old apprentice carpenter Jamie Kirchen was working for Mintark on a residential site. He was standing on timber joists on the top of the first storey of a building and was directing the crane operator to land a pallet of timber flooring onto the joists.

He was removing the slings from the pallet when the unsecured joists on which he was standing gave way under the weight of the load. He fell around 2.5 metres, while the pallet load of wood landed on him. He suffered multiple fractures including to his pelvis and lost part of his bowel.

In his judgment Justice Marks said that neither Stephensons Cranes, nor its employee, the crane operator Richard Soltau, "undertook any examination of the physical area upon which the load was to be deposited. They should have done so."

"The safety of Mr Kirchen, albeit not an employee of Stephensons Cranes, was dependent upon the suitability of the area for the depositing of the load." He added that there was no evidence that the crane company considered or enquired about the "safety and suitability" of the area.

Marks did acknowledge however that several pallet loads had been lifted onto the area earlier that day without incident. And that the principal responsibility for the safety and security of the area rested on Mintark and Kirchen.

He said he regarded the "culpability" of Stephensons as less than that of Minitark - Kirchen's employer.

"The evidence is that Mr Soltau, on his own behalf and on behalf of the defendant, relied upon the ostensible expertise of the carpenters in having placed the joists in such a manner that the area would be appropriate for the depositing of the load," said Marks.

"The Stephensons Cranes personnel must have been aware that Mr Kirchen was not wearing any safety harness, was working on exposed joists and there was limited protection against a fall."

Finally he added that he considered that advertising the case in a newspaper was an effective way to get the message of safety across to the construction industry.


Craniac 1
While complete details are lacking, it would seem the supervisory personnel directing the crane to place a load should bear the responsibility of ensuring safety. They have the building plans in their posession and, with a little forethought, any enquiries regarding loading joists with bundled material could easily be directed to the appropriate architect or engineer for clarification before a crane arrives onsite. Alternately, some temporary shoring transferring the load to the ground may be in order? Placing the burden for jobsite safety on the operator, who likely has no training in structural engineering, could seemingly open the crane operator/owner up to even more liability for directing the work. In short, it was a terrible accident but justice does not seem to be served by the verdict, either. On the surface it seems similar to the attitude occasionally seen on jobs stateside-
"We may not know what we're doing, but we sure are in a hurry!"
Best Regards,
Chuck Mostert

Sep 10, 2010