Apprenticeship Neglect: The Plumber’s Crack of Tradie Safety

Tradies make up approximately 30% of the Australian workforce, but represent almost 60% of all workplace injuries.[1]

Unfortunately, it’s the apprentices, the young men who find themselves learning how to perform complicated work with unfamiliar machines, in hazardous work environments, that are often put at the highest risk.

The Incident

This was found to be the case in 2020, when a Brisbane steel fabrication company received a $50,000 fine following an incident that left a third-year apprentice boilermaker with severe groin lacerations. The sentencing took place in the Brisbane Magistrates Court recently.

The company has over 60 employees and specializes in metalwork and steel fabrication and boasts a 50-year operational history. At the time of the incident, the third-year apprentice had undergone training on using grinders and safety protocols, including positioning to avoid kick-back.

At the time of his injury, the apprentice was using a 7-inch Metabo angle grinder with a wire wheel attachment to cut the flange off a 200mm mild steel universal beam (UB). The apprentice was wearing a face shield, safety glasses and long sleeve clothing, but wasn’t wearing a leather apron because he hadn’t been told to use one.

After approximately 5 to 10 minutes of grinding, the machine snagged the steel and ricocheted backward, with the wire wheel attachment catching in the apprentice’s trousers and embedding in his groin, causing a severe laceration. He was promptly taken to the hospital, where the grinder and wire brush attachment were surgically removed, and the laceration was treated.

Queensland Courts on Apprentice Safety

During sentencing, Acting Magistrate Leanne Scoines emphasized that the defendant faced prosecution under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, designed to safeguard workers’ health and safety. Her decision took into account the factors listed in s 9 of the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992, the young and relative inexperience of the apprentice and the need for both specific and general deterrence.

Although the apprentice’s injury was serious and gruesome, impacting his lifestyle both mentally and physically during his recovery period, there were no long-term permanent physical consequences, and he successfully completed his apprenticeship with the defendant company.

Acknowledging the widespread potential risk to apprentices and tradies in Australia, Magistrate Scoines stressed the critical importance of employers remaining diligent and vigilant in safeguarding health and safety. While the company had a good standing and a long history without prior incidents, the safety measures in place fell short of ensuring the apprentice’s protection on the incident date.

WorkCover Claims

At Claimwise our mission is to help you save money on your legal fees. By starting your WorkCover claim with a traditional ‘No Win, No Fee’ law firm your total legal fees can end up being $10,000 or more higher than by using us.

If you or someone you know has been injured at work in Queensland and want to keep your legal costs down, feel free to get in touch with us.

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