On 6 February 2019, the Maroochydore District Court handed down Queensland’s first Category 1 prosecution under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011. Sunshine Coast company director, Gary Lavin, and his company, Multi-Run Roofing, were charged with reckless conduct relating to the 2014 death of 62 year old roofer, Whareheepa Te Amo. Mr Te Amo fell almost six metres while working on an unprotected roof edge.
Mr Lavin’s brother, who had contracted the roofing job to Multi-Run Roofing, and his company, also faced charges. The trial was heard before a jury, and after two days of deliberation, they delivered a guilty verdict for Mr Lavin and his company but were unable to reach a decision on the charges against Mr Lavin’s brother and his company.
This was the first charge of reckless conduct successfully prosecuted at trial in any Australian State or Territory operating under comparable work health and safety legislation. Mr Lavin was sentenced to one year in prison, suspended after four months, and his company, Multi-Run Roofing, was fined $1 million dollars.
Multi-Run Roofing was engaged by Mr Lavin’s brother’s company to re-roof large sheds in Cooroy, west of Noosa. Mr Te Amo was one of five workers engaged by Multi-Run Roofing to perform the work. Mr Lavin was paid $284,000 by his brother to complete the job, inclusive of the cost of installing safety rails. Despite this, witnesses described Mr Lavin saying that it would be too expensive to install the safety rails.
The Court heard that the roofers adopted a method where the rails of scissor lifts were used as a barrier alongside the roof edge, with the worker near the edge to wear a safety harness. It was the task of one worker to be positioned near the edge of the roof to straighten the roofing sheets. This was the work being carried out by Mr Te Amo on the day he was killed. The Court heard that at the time of his fall Mr Te Amo tripped or stumbled over the unprotected roof edge. He was not wearing a safety harness.
The Court found that while the workers involved were competent, the risk was significant as those working at the roof edge “were working with a narrow margin for error”. The Court heard that edge protection would have stopped the fall and its absence could have been easily addressed. It was previously agreed that the defendants would be paid to install edge protection and it was available on site. It was estimated the price of safety rails would have been around $5,000.
It was accepted that Mr Lavin was remorseful. None of the defendants had a record of any relevant breaches of work health and safety laws. Mr Lavin had been in the industry for close to 50 years, and indicated that he would not be renewing his roofing licence.