Record fines for ignoring improvement and prohibition notices

The NSW Downing Centre Local Court has recently issued record-high fines to an employer entity for ignoring a series of improvement and prohibition notices, despite the fact that no one was injured by the company’s inaction.

Between February 2016 and June 2017, PIA Constructions and Engineering Pty Ltd (PIA) received five prohibition notices and four improvement notices while completing construction works in a housing estate. The notices were issued for various unsafe working methods which potentially placed workers and the public at risk of injury, slips, trips and falls, including:

  • unsafe scaffolding;
  • poor housekeeping; and
  • inadequate site security.

These prohibition and improvement notices were ignored by both PIA and one of its directors.

PIA pleaded guilty to multiple offences under sections 19, 20 and 33 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW) and was fined a total $210,000. A director of PIA was also personally fined a total of $42,500 for breaching sections 27 and 33.

Tips for employers

This decision and the hefty fines imposed show that:

  • safety prosecutions can be commenced by regulators even in the absence actual harm or injury to any person (because it is unnecessary risk per se, not the consequence of that risk, which is the subject of employers’ statutory duties);
  • it is highly beneficial to take positive action or seek legal advice at the earliest possible opportunity following any notices or other intervention from the regulator;

Contact the Macpherson Kelley Employment, Safety and Migration team for more information about how we can assist with any issues relating to occupational health and safety.

This article was written by Cinzia Pietrolungo, Lawyer – Employment, Safety and Migration.