Recently, Worksafe Victoria has prosecuted and fined a company $380.000 after the pit collapsed, leaving homes teetering on the edge of a 10-metre drop. In addition, the sole director, was also convicted and fined $100,000.
These are significant fines as the court heard that the company put other persons at risk that are not employees. The Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, clause 23 outlines that an employer must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that other persons are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the conduct of the undertaking of the employer.
Another example of not protecting other persons other than workers was in Queensland in 2015, when a resident of the facility was walking along the pathway with assistance of a mobility aid (walker). The wheel of the walker went over the edge of the excavation causing her to lose balance and fall on her right side. She sustained a fracture to the right femoral neck and extensive bruising around the pelvis. She was taken to hospital and died 20 days later of complications arising from her injuries.
Worksafe Victoria quoted "Trenches are an inherently dangerous work environment. They can and sometimes do collapse with catastrophic consequences, which is why it is so important that a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU's)/employers and contractors ensure that all necessary safety precautions are in place."
This is a gentle reminder that workers and members of the public must be protected from falling into trenches or excavations by the use of appropriate barriers and warning signs. Provision should be made for the regular inspection of these trenches/excavation by a competent person in accordance with the relevant sections of the applicable regulations and/or codes.
Generally, trenching and excavation risks are captured in a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS), which outlines the high-risk construction work activities, including trenches and/or excavation with a depth greater that 1.5 metres and describes the measures to put in place to control the risks.
What can you do?
A key requirement of health and safety legislation is that PCBU/employers must provide adequate training to workers, in relation to managing trenching and excavation risks which may include, completing SWMS and checking sufficient trench/excavation protections have been installed or erected, such as shields, benching, battering and shoring.