“Disgraceful” response to work-site fall paints a picture of injustice for paraplegic worker

Paul Eyers
By Paul Eyers
6 Min Read

The CFMEU ACT has called for harsher punishments for workplace safety law breaches after a site supervisor’s “soft” sentence received significant backlash.

Canberra painter Karl Allred was handed the penalty of recording a work health and safety training clip after one of his workers fell from a roof, leaving him paraplegic for life. 

However, Mr Allred’s “failed” attempt at the video has since sparked backlash from the state’s construction union, with the CFMEU claiming the site supervisor shirked blame and accountability in the original clip. 

Last week, he was ordered to “have another go” at the video, which will be used as part of SafeWork’s working from heights training for use in the construction industry.

The incident, which occurred in July 2021, happened as Mr Allred’s team prepared to paint the upper section of a group of townhouses when one of his workers fell six meters after tying two ladders together to reach higher levels of the property. 

Mr Allred was off-site at the time, leaving the workers unsupervised, who had yet to be instructed to begin painting the upper levels. 

Allred pleaded guilty to failing to comply with a health and safety duty, exposing a person to risk of death or serious injury. The court heard he failed to provide information, training, or supervision to his workers.

In the first recorded clip, Allred claimed the worker had begun work on the upper levels of the property unsupervised “to try and impress me.” 

CFMEU ACT Secretary Zach Smith slammed the video as shameful and insulting, saying it suggested the worker was lazy and complacent.

“A worker is now paraplegic for life, and the only consequence for the boss is being ordered to have another go at making a safety video after a disgraceful and offensive first try,” he said.

“There’s something gravely wrong with the system when a boss admits to exposing a worker to serious injury, makes a victim-blaming video and then winds up without even a fine.”

“Canberrans will be rightly appalled with this outcome, given it’s so wildly out of step with community expectations.”

The union has now called on the government to prevent similar incidents from going equally unpunished. 

“The attorney-general must urgently update judicial guidelines so a so-called penalty like this is never handed out again,” Mr Smith said.

“Worksafe’s resources shouldn’t be poured into helping guilty bosses make videos masquerading as some sort of contrition for unconscionable behaviour.”

“Worksafe should never have agreed to helping people like this film crocodile tears to get them off the hook. A decent regulator must do everything in its power to make sure dodgy bosses cop the full whack.”

Penalty pushback to spark stricter change

The backlash will likely form part of any future judiciary considerations ahead of a number of fall-related work safety investigations around the country.

In the six months prior to March, SafeWork NSW had issued nearly $1 million in fines as part of a 12-month safety blitz on falls from heights after the state saw 17 construction workers die from preventable falls between 2018 and 2022.

Meanwhile, in the last week of March this year, Victorian building sites witnessed four serious fall incidents, including one death after a 56-year-old concreter fell more than two metres and sustained severe head injuries.

The recent spate of construction falls comes despite the state regulator conducting its own worksite safety blitz throughout 2023, which resulted in $1.9 million in fines. 

Nine workers died in the state that year as a result of a fall from height, including four in the construction industry, with more than 400 claims accepted from construction workers injured as a result of falling from a height.

Falls per location (VIC 2023)

  • 160 fell from ladders
  • 46 from steps and stairways
  • 31 from buildings or structures
  • 27 from scaffolding
  • 13 from openings in floors, walls or ceilings.

WorkSafe Executive Director Health and Safety Narelle Beer says the preventable nature of falls from heights made them an equally frustrating and devastating problem. 

“A fall can happen in just seconds, but the consequences can last a lifetime, including devastating injuries and loss of life,” Dr Beer said.

“It might be easy to think that a tragic incident will never happen on your site, but if safety is not the top priority every day, then the chances are high that it will.”

“We have a dedicated team of inspectors visiting sites across the state, and there is zero tolerance for employers who fail to take the well-known risks of falls seriously.”

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Paul Eyers has worked as a journalist for a range of media publishers including News Corp and Network Ten. He has also worked outside of Australia, including time spent with ABS-CBN in the Philippines. Stepping away from the media, Paul spent five years sharpening his tools in construction - building his skill set and expertise within the trade industry. His diverse experiences and unique journey have equipped him with an insider view of Australia’s construction game to dig deep into the big stories.

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