August 24, 2023

A worker who fell from a ladder while descending from the top of a 14.5-m high silo to land on a concrete slab below has won substantial damages from a refinery plant that denied liability for its role in the calamity.

Dogman Steven Speziali – an employee of site contractor Nortask – was repairing the metal flooring of a platform at the top of the “cyclone” separator in June 2017.

Hazard Creation LiabilityNortask conducted regular maintenance at the biofuel refinery for owner Dalby Bio-Refinery Limited whose plant converts agricultural waste into fuel.

For each of its jobs, DBRL required Nortask to complete a Job Safety and Environmental Analysis (JSEA) describing the tasks to be carried out, any special requirements and identifying health and safety hazards and risk control measures.

Speziali and his colleagues completed the removal of damaged doors and floor grating on the top platform on 8 June.

He returned on 15 June in wet conditions to reinstall the equipment following its repair.

Although they did not wear safety harnesses while using the ladders up or down, Nortask personnel wore them while atop the platform.

As he was descending the top ladder after finishing the job, his foot – he was unable to recall which one – slipped on a rung that had become slippery from the damp conditions and he began to fall.

The dogman struck various parts of the ladder cage before going over the top of the mid platform guardrails and eventually landing on the concrete slab at ground level.

His injury compensation claim against both his employer and DBRL came before Justice Melanie Hindman in the Supreme Court in Brisbane.

While the former admitted a share of the fault for the accident, the plant owner cavilled with worker’s account of what had occurred and alleged that he was at least in part, responsible for the accident.

It transpired – from the expert engineering evidence of Intersafe’s Justin Ludcke – that the ladder system was defective and created the potential for factory injuries.

Her Honour excused DBRL of liability for requiring work to be performed in wet conditions when the rungs were likely to become slippery.

She ruled though that the large gap between the bottom of the ladder’s safety cage and the guardrails of the mid platform that risked a falling worker tumbling the further 8.8m metres onto concrete below, to be “unacceptable”.

This feature – which was one of several that defied the Australian Standards – was a “readily foreseeable” hazard that created a risk of injury and which ought to have been identified by DBRL.

“If such precautions were not taken, it was probable that injury would occur to a person who slipped from the top ladder and that the injury would be serious,” she concluded.

The fuel maker’s defence was dismissed and it was held to have been 75% responsible given Nortask had already offered to accept 25% of the fault because its JSEA addressed neither ladder safety nor a harness requirement when ascending or descending.

“If anything, that is a generous assessment in favour of DBRL and Nortask might properly have sought to sheet home an increased apportionment to DBRL,” she observed after a four-day trial.

Mr Speziali suffered a 48% loss of whole person function according to the unchallenged evidence of orthopaedic surgeon David Morgan.

Damages as against his employer Nortask were agreed via the Civil Liability Act at $899,254. They included no allowance for past or future gratuitous care.

The damages for DBRL (the host) to pay were also agreed except for gratuitous care. Thus the amount it was ordered to pay was the total allowed against Nortask plus past care ($138k) and future care ($304k) making a total of $1,341,573.

There are no details in the judgment of the agreed components of either award nor of the features of the plaintiff’s actual injuries or treatment.

One has to wonder why general damages at common law did not by far exceed the artificially depressed allowances bestowed by the CLA methodology.

Are we beginning to forget what the common law is some 20 odd years after consumers were mugged by an insurance industry who championed the CLA catastrophe?

Speziali v Nortask Pty Ltd & Anor [2023] QSC 166 [2023] 32 QLR Hindman J, 1 August 2023

Categories: Factory accident

Was this article helpful?
people found this article useful

Get in touch with us

Online Now

Welcome to Carter Capner Law! I'm here to assist with enquiries and gather details. How can I help today?