Bad wind fells builder with nasty $30K fine
THE CONCRETE was still wet on a freshly built block wall when a gust of wind blew it over.
The crash left a badly injured tradesman trapped beneath 165kg of rubble, as his work mates scrambled to free him.
The apologetic wall-builder Marek Szweda was hit with a $30,000 fine when he pleaded guilty to a serious Queensland Work Health and Safety offence this week.
Details emerged of the Springfield Lakes work-site accident when Szweda went before Ipswich Magistrates Court to plead that he failed to comply with his work health and safety duties on November 14, 2016.
Lisa McConnell from the Office of the Work Health Safety Prosecution said the accident happened at Jersey Cres.
Szweda's company, Mark's Exclusive Bricklaying, had been contracted by Muris Lingo of Lingo Homes Pty to construct a fire wall at a new duplex.
Szweda had to ensure the safety of others, or that their health was not put at risk, but was ruled to have failed to do so.
Ms McConnell said the firewall separating the two-storey duplexes was 11m in length and 3m high when a gust of wind blew it over.
She said each block weighed 13.2kg, with a safety report concluding 165kg of material landed on 32-year-old worker Walter Neil.
Trapped under the fallen masonry, he suffered a crushed spinal vertebrae, cuts and abrasions.
Ms McConnell said the brick wall had not been supported or braced, which was the usual practice in the industry. There had been no exclusion zone for workers.
The injured man spent five days recovering in hospital.
Ms McConnell said if the safety measures had been complied with the accident would have been avoided.
The maximum penalty for such an offence stands at $300,000.
Work Health and Safety sought a penalty of between $15,000 and $20,000.
Representing himself in court, Szweda said he had worked on construction sites since the age of 15 and worked as a brickie's labourer.
He said he migrated from Poland in 2003.
Szweda said he had never had a problem until that day in Springfield Lakes.
He said they moved scaffolding and when the wind blew never had a chance to brace the newly-constructed wall.
"I feel very sorry for what has happened," Szweda said.
"Last thing I wanted was for workers to be hurt."
Magistrate Virginia Sturgess said he had failed to comply with his work health and safety duty and had engaged sub-contractors to construct the fire wall.
She said 30 minutes after it reached its final height, the wall collapsed.
There had been no use of temporary bracing, and a report into the collapse indicated it had been "avoidable".
Temporary bracing should have been engaged to allow the new wall to become stable, with the problem relatively easy to address.
Ms Sturgess said the maximum penalty of $300,000 indicated how serious such safety matters were regarded, as people could suffer permanent or significant injury, "a lifetime of consequences".
She took into account the money he owes the Australian Taxation Office, his personal mortgage, and noted that 10 per cent of the $300,000 was $30,000.
Szweda was fined $30,000 but ordered to pay $18,000, which was sent to SPER for a payment plan.
After considering his capacity to pay, Ms Sturgess said the remaining $12,000 would be postponed for 18 months.
It would not need to be paid if Szweda did not commit any breaches in that time.
The Queensland Times wanted to provide a photograph of the fallen wall that was tended as evidence to show the seriousness of what occurred.
However, in Queensland media must pay a fee of $108.10 in making such an application to the magistrate for approval to have access to the photograph even though it was tended as official evidence and done in an open court.
The newspaper chose not to proceed, the process can also take days.