Managing people

Scaffolding accident: which contractor is responsible? 

When a labour-hire worker is injured, and there is a primary and secondary contractor, which company is responsible? 

19 May 2022

An injured labour-hire worker was awarded $1.35 million in damages after the head scaffolding site contractor did not provide an exclusion zone or a safe work system.

A concrete-covered metal scaffolding bench fell on the truck driver from a third-floor scaffold while being dismantled. 

Synergy Scaffolding Services Pty Ltd hired the worker and told him to get an ABN and submit invoices for hours worked to Synergy.

The labour-hire arrangement was with DJ’s Scaffolding Pty Ltd, now deregistered. However, he worked exclusively for Synergy Scaffolding Services Pty Ltd.

How did the injury occur?

The worker was asked to pick up Synergy scaffolding in a Synergy truck. On arrival, the structure wasn’t wholly dismantled. He was asked to finish dismantling it with other Synergy workers when the injury occurred and caused a compression injury to his spine.

He sued Synergy and DJ’s Scaffolding for damages.

The findings

Justice Stephen Campbell found Synergy to be in control of the worksite at the time of the injury and responsible for the worker’s tasks. He found that “Synergy had instructed the worker to help with the dismantling of the scaffold, a job for which he had not received formal training or instruction.”

He also found the Synergy team did not tape off an exclusion zone below the scaffolding or advise worker’s not to enter the area. 

DJ’s scaffolding did not control the worker or how the site ran.

“I am of the view that Synergy Scaffolding, in the circumstances I have described, did come under a duty to use reasonable care to ensure that the system of work for dismantling the scaffolding in the Artarmon site was safe,” he said.

Furthermore, “it was negligent to leave the task to what might have been a disparate crew of scaffolders wearing Synergy Scaffolding’s livery on the chance that someone would be sufficiently competent and possessed of sufficient leadership skills to come up with and institute a safe system of work and supervise the compliance of other workers with it.”

The outcome

Synergy is solely liable for the damages, and the amount payable is $1.35 million. In addition, DJ’s Scaffolding is entitled to recover compensation already paid to the worker from Synergy.

Alelaimat v Synergy Scaffolding Services (No 3) [2022] NSWSC 536 (5 May 2022)

Siobhann Provost

Senior Writer, My Business

Siobhann has over 18 years human resources business partnering experience in large organisations. She more recently established and led a people advice team of senior workplace advisors before moving into content writing.

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