Company cops a record $2.1 million fine for apprentice’s head injury

Jarrod Brown
By Jarrod Brown
5 Min Read

A Victorian engineering company has copped a record fine this weekend for “recklessly endangering” the life of a young apprentice on site.

Dennis Jones Engineering and its sole director, Dennis Jones, were dealt a hefty 2.1 million dollar fine over the weekend after pleading guilty to “engaging in conduct that placed a person in danger”.

In October 2021, Jones directed a 20-year-old apprentice to use a plastic sleeve to steady lengths of steel pipe that he was threading on a lathe at the company’s Morwell workshop.

The apprentice was holding the plastic sleeve on the end of a pipe that protruded nearly 1.5 metres from the rear spindle of the lathe and was struck in the head when the pipe bent and whipped. 

He was placed in an induced coma, airlifted to hospital and underwent surgery for serious head injuries.

A WorkSafe investigation found Jones should have been aware of the risk.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said overhanging workpieces were a well-known safety risk when using lathes.

“It is incredibly frustrating that this employer had several control measures to eliminate or reduce the risk available but simply chose not to use them,” Dr Beer said in a statement provided to Build-it.

“The significant penalties for this company and director reflect the life-altering impact this devastating incident has had on a vulnerable apprentice who was at the very start of his career.”

Jones himself was separately fined a further $140,000 for failing to provide or maintain safe systems of work by failing to take reasonable care as an officer of the company. 

He was also ordered to complete a Community Corrections Order of five years with a condition that he complete 600 hours of unpaid community work.

Young workers are in serious danger

Unfortunately, young tradies are all too familiar with worksite tragedies. Between 2013 and 2022, 163 workers under the age of 25 died from a work-related traumatic injury, with 24 per cent coming from the construction industry. 

While data from Safe Work Australia shows this work fatality rate is beginning to decline across the country, serious claims in the construction sector still sit well above the industry average.

Incidence rates for the construction industry sit at an alarming 16.9 claims per 1,000 workers, well above the industry average of 10.5 claims. Only manufacturing and agriculture (17.6 claims per 1,000) and forestry and fishing industries (20.2 claims per 1,000) had higher rates. 

From 2020 to 2021, there were more than 16,000 claims for the construction industry.

According to Queensland Industrial Relations (QIR), young workers are more likely to be injured at work because of their “unique risk profile”.

“We see the combination of a brain that is still developing and a desire to learn and experience new things — this can mean they can take risks without considering the potential consequences,” said a spokesperson of QIR.

“They are often inexperienced, and therefore the likelihood of an injury is highest during their first six months in a new job.”

To combat the risk of injury, QIR encouraged young tradies to create a support network at work and immediately report safety concerns to their superiors. 

“Young workers should identify more experienced workers at the workplace who can mentor or guide them in their attitude towards work health and safety,” said QIR’s spokesperson.

“They should also participate in, and support, any workplace programs that aim to improve their safety, after all, their health and safety is important not just for their job, but also for enjoying their life outside of work as well.”

“If you are concerned about your own or your workmates’ health and safety, talk to your immediate supervisor, employer and/or HSR straight away. And if you work through a group training organisation, labour hire agency or work experience placement, report your concerns to them as well.”

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Jarrod Brown combines his background in journalism, copywriting and digital marketing with a lifelong passion for storytelling. He has a strong passion for new and emerging consumer technology within the building sector. He lives on the Sunshine Coast - usually found glued to the deck of a surfboard.