Contracting giant, Fulton Hogan, has been fined $38,400 after an employee fell about three metres onto a riverbed while repairing a bridge on the West Coast of the South Island.

The accident happened on 20 August 2009 while maintenance work was being done on the single-lane steel and wooden Big Wainihinihi Bridge on State Highway 73 between Greymouth and Christchurch. The employee stepped onto what he thought was a steel ‘I’ beam and fell about three metres onto a riverbed breaking his kneecap and suffering cuts and bruising.

In the Dunedin District Court Fulton Hogan Ltd pleaded guilty to failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of its employee while at work in that it failed to ensure he was not exposed to a fall from height.

In a reserved judgment released today Judge S.J. O’Driscoll said that “falls are clearly a high risk hazard and an adequate fall prevention system should have been put in place. It should have been obvious to those at the bridge that there was a risk that someone may have fallen off the bridge particularly when the baulks were being replaced.”

“The defendant’s failure to follow the industry guidelines is a significant departure from industry standards,” said Judge O’Driscoll.

Fulton Hogan was also ordered to pay reparation of $12,000 with the judge noting there are still ongoing difficulties for the employee who fell, and it is unclear how long those difficulties will continue.

“Falls from height are one of the most prevalent causes of death and serious harm in the workplace. The company failed to have an adequate fall prevention system in place to protect employees,” says Margaret Radford, the Department of Labour’s Service Manager in Christchurch.

“Companies need to understand that addressing known hazards is not optional and the Department will continue to take strong action in relation to breaches of this nature,” Ms Radford says.

“Since the accident Fulton Hogan has put a number of safety procedures in place for employees working at heights. This includes better instructions for specific bridge maintenance, a new hazard identification sheet and continuing to develop a significant hazard operating procedure for work at height,” Ms Radford says.