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Kenoss Contractors: Safety Breach and Hazards of Workplace

Rationale

Safety and Risk Management are critical aspects of a workplace and breaches are punishable under Work Health and Safety Law. This task encourages students to analyse and conceptualise responses to safety breaches in a given situation and make decisions based on the evidence provided.

Task

Read the online article at the following link:

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-08-19/construction-company-fined-1-million-over-workplace-death/6708032

In an essay describe the workplace, the hazards and how this safety breach could have been avoided. What actually happened and how did SAFEWORK resolve this issue? What could have been done differently and how would you address this if you worked in this workplace?

Answer

Safety and Risk Management

Introduction

Work Health and Safety (WHS) can be mentioned as the specific discipline with the concern of protecting every stakeholder’s health and safety from any kind of exposure to risk factors and hazards resulting from work activities, within the workplace territory (Awwad, El Souki & Jabbour, 2016). Safety breach by the organizations is considered a major violation of the workplace laws which can be charged as criminal offense under the WHS Act. In this research work, a specific case study concerning safety breach has been critically evaluated in course of analyzing the various aspects related to the incident. 

Description of workplace

The workplace in this case is a Canberra construction site of a construction company named Kenoss Contractors. A sub-contractor named Michael Booth, aged 48, got electrocuted during the time of delivering a load of material to the construction company (ABC, 2015). The power lines were low-slung and Mr Booth’s truck tip accidentally touched the power lines on the work site which resulted in his death eventually. The worksite had neither posted any warning signs regarding the power lines, nor had it attached any flag to the lines themselves. It is quite surprising why the workplace was under so many power lines when there were frequent access of the site by both the workers and visitors. 

Hazards of workplace

From the case study, it can be known that the construction site was hazardous largely due to the company’s lack of following basic safety norms. There were power lines all over the site without any safety signs or flags to warn the workers of the live power lines. From the case study, it can be understood that poorly managed access to the work site did cause the accident in context of the safety breach and resulted in death of a worker. The workplace hazards as per the case study can be listed as – poor contractor management, usage of no spotter, not turning off the power lines during work and overall a poor corporate culture. 

Kenoss had not paid attention to the safety aspects of the business and therefore, everything was haywire and nothing was in place. The company’s poor corporate culture invariably led to the tragic event where a worker had to lose his life due to the company’s irresponsibility towards fulfilling its respective ‘duty of care’. The safety officer was not qualified for the role but still got the job anyway being the son of the general manager. This showcases that the company resorted to unethical means to do business and henceforth, lacked documentation as well as a systematic approach to safety. 

How the safety breach could have been avoided?

The investigation into the case reveals that Kenoss had been well aware of the safety risks and could have adopted simple as well as affordable methods to avoid the casualty. The company could have averted the hazards and risk factors and opted for ensuring safety of the workers at the workplace. 

Had the management at Koness been attentive to the nuances, the safety breach could have been avoided entirely. Despite the construction site having live power lines, there were no signs or flags indicating that which may have warned the workers like Michael Booth to stay away from that area (ABC, 2015). The case study further reveals that the access to the work site was poorly managed which means anyone could have come and go without prior knowledge of the hazardous state of the site. Mr. Booth himself was an instance of this breach because he being a sub-contractor of the construction company had easy access to the work site but was unaware of the perilous condition. The company could have invested in the health and safety of the workers in order to be prepared for any sort of fatality and in case of Koness, no initiative was taken after Mr. Booth fall prey to the accident (Zhou, Goh & Li, 2015).

The power lines could have been turned off during the time of work to avoid any mishap but the contrary took place and as a result Mr. Booth’s death occurred due to electrocution. Surprisingly, no evidence can be found regarding any consideration of visitors like Mr. Booth that would showcase any warning regarding accessing the site (ABC, 2015). The company operated in such way that serious injury or death was foreseeable and the incident of Mr. Booth can be considered as one of the major avoidable serious accidents occurring at workplace. 

What actually happened?

The case of Kenoss has been marked as one of the first case under new national work safety laws that have managed to set a precedent for the jurisdictions all across the nation. The company was served a record amount of fine as the incident containing death of a worker had been considered at the higher end of safety breach. Studies reveal that the maximum allowable penalty for a safety breach by any corporation is $1.5 million and in this regard, Kenoss had been fined the amount of $1.1 million under the new national work safety laws (ABC, 2015). As the Canberra corporation has gone into liquidation, seemingly the fine would go unpaid; but a ‘strong warning’ has been sent to all the corporations and their respective directors regarding safety breach as violation of safety norms would be criminally liable under the new laws.

The construction company followed no safety norms and violated legal provisions as well concerning the appointment of the safety officer without any proper qualification for the job (Tombs & Whyte, 2013). The company is all about poor corporate culture and even more so when the son of the general manager had been made the safety officer of the company despite being not-qualified for the job profile. 

Furthermore, Kenoss had attempted to hamper the safety breach investigation to avoid any sort of responsibility or liability towards the death of the worker. The company even opted for tampering with evidence which is inclusive of an officer’s altering the attendance record of Michael Booth (ABC, 2015). 

Discussion of the response to the incident and how safety could be improved

Safety aspects leading to the incident

The construction company should have followed the WHS rules in order to function in alignment with legal framework.  Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 (OSH Act), in case of non-practicable situations, the employers are responsible to provide adequate personal protective clothing as well as equipment to the workers (free of extra charge) to avoid the presence of hazards (Bahn, 2013). But Kenoss failed in that respect as well because Mr. Booth had no protective gear on when he got electrocuted and had he been aware of the power lines; he would not have gone near it. In case of being equipped with protective gear and equipment, the electrocution could have been avoided; which eventually caused Mr. Booth’s death after he collapsed on the worksite (Demirkesen & Arditi, 2015). 

Under section 21 of the OSH Act, the duty of the company regarding the safety and health of people who are non-workers of the company is talked about. Organizations or business corporations must ensure that the non-employees are not in any way affected by the work, hazard or the work system; as this provision is applicable to any visitor, volunteer, work experience students or people other than workers at the workplace. Though Mr. Booth was not directly a part of the company as of his role as sub-contractor; his safety does come under the company liability and should have been prioritized instead of the company’s showcased negligence towards the case. The General Duty of Care in Western Australian workplaces cannot be avoided by the concerned Australian company, involved intricately in the serious case which could have been avoided (Biggs & Biggs, 20130. 


How did SAFEWORK resolve the issue?

SAFEWORK is an Australian governmental statutory body which was set up in the year 2008 for developing national policy in relation to WHS (Workplace Health and Safety) and workers’ compensation (Glendon & Clarke, 2015). The organization is found to be working in partnership with the governments, employers and the employees with regard to driving national policy development on WHS and compensation matters of the workers. In terms of being a national policy body, SAFEWORK does not regulate WHS laws but ensure the workers receive adequate compensation. This statutory body had looked into the Koness case where death of the sub-contractor Michael Booth had entitled the person’s family to compensation package on account of company’s safety breach activities (Li & Poon, 2013). 

All across Australia, the law requires the company employers to provide highest standard of safety and health at their respective workplaces in order to ensure the workers or employees are in no way injured or harmed during their course of work. The law focuses on practicability of the workplace scenarios with regard ensuring utmost safety for the workers involved. Under section 19(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 (OSH Act), the employers hold responsibility for providing as well as maintaining a safe working environment for the workers (as far as practicable) which is largely known as ‘duty of care’ (Johnstone, 2016). This act is inclusive of providing information to the workers regarding all sorts of hazards and risks from the work and ensures the workers are not exposed to hazards. But in this case, Kenoss not just failed to abide by the OSH Act, but also diligently ignored the safety norms and any sort of responsibility i.e. duty of care towards the dead worker (Mahmoudi et al. 2014). 


What could have been done differently?

Whatever be the final settlement of the case study containing safety breach issue in Koness, the death of the worker cannot be accepted in any given circumstances. The tragic event has managed to remind every existent corporation in Australia regarding their respective obligations and the significance of due diligence (Johnstone, 2016). The tragic event caused due to breach of safety in the workplace is indeed a hapless incident which should not have taken place in the first place. But the issue has sent a very clear message to the business owners in the industry that it is the primary duty of the business organizations to ensure a safety workplace culture to safeguard the well-being of the workers in every plausible way. The safety culture in concern should be inclusive of clearly defined systems, qualified OHS practitioner and a definite contractor management system – which in turn would be ensuring the workers’ safety as well as safety of those unfamiliar to the worksite (Priyadarshani, Karunasena & Jayasuriya, 2013). 

How to address the issue in case to have personally worked in that workplace?

Had there been any personal involvement in the construction workplace, the issue would have been immediately reported to the legal authorities, so that appropriate actions could have been taken against the careless authorities. Had I been involved in the workplace in any management position, I would have ensured that workplace safety measures are being followed accordingly. Employee safety comes first and should never be compromised in any way as that would mean major breaching of safety norms. Safeguarding the health and safety of the workers is an integral part of company management and should have been done in compliance with the WHS Act and relevant workplace safety norms (Johnstone, 2016). 

As per the case study, it has come to be known that Kenoss was guilty throughout by dint of knowing the presence of the hazard, which could have been controlled by means of taking simple steps. Despite knowing everything, Kenoss had not acted on the matter and failed to discharge its duty of care which is a punishable offence under new safety laws. The primary concern as well as duty of a corporation is to ensure effective controlling of hazards and risks at the respective workplace and Kenoss ignorantly declined its duty which ultimately resulted in a worker’s death. The penalty charged against the construction company is appropriate, even though death can never be compensated for. 

Conclusion

Conclusion can be drawn on the notion that organizations need to have safety culture under which the employees’ health and safety are to be protected alongside ensuring there is no safety breach and no harm is caused to the workers at any cost. The case study of Canberra corporation Koness has sent a clear-cut message to the business industry in terms of not being ignorant of the duty of care and holding full responsibility for the workers in every possible and practicable workplace circumstances.  


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