Coles fined $170 000 over worker fall

Coles has been fined $170,000 and ordered to pay WorkCover’s legal costs after a worker sustained injuries when she fell through a ceiling at a Manly store in 2007.

The worker climbed over a handrail to access promotional material being stored on a suspended plasterboard ceiling on 29 August 2007, according to WorkCover.

The plasterboard collapsed and she fell more than two metres to the floor below and had to be transferred to hospital to be treated for lacerations to her head, whiplash and bruising.

An investigation by WorkCover found the company knew that using the roof cavity for storage was dangerous, and it had built a railing and posted a warning sign, but management failed to undertake a risk assessment on the ability of the plasterboard to withstand any weight.

They also failed to adequately warn staff not to access the area or use it for storage.

Coles Supermarkets Australia Pty Ltd pleaded guilty, and was convicted and fined $170,000 and required to pay WorkCover’s legal costs.

WorkCover’s General Manager of Work Health and Safety Division, John Watson, said a number of simple steps could have prevented the incident and as a national retailer, the company should have sufficient safety awareness and procedures.

“This business employs more 23,000 people in 238 stores across NSW, so the safety procedures of this company are relevant to a lot of people,” Watson said.

“This particular area should never have been allowed to be used to store merchandise and Coles management should have been more vigilant.

“While store management knew the area was not safe, the area was still used for storage and there was no proper information or training given to staff to warn of the risk.

“It is critically important that these types of hazards are identified at the workplace design stage and all reasonable and practicable steps be taken to eliminate the risk of work related injury or illness.

“Following this incident Coles has initiated a number of steps to eliminate re-occurrence, including a new plywood barrier to block off all access to the dangerous area and issuing a safety alert to staff,” Watson said.

“WorkCover is also pleased that this issue has also been addressed in the design of all new Coles stores.”

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