Illawarra Mercury

So much for safety

Date: 22/06/2011
Words: 421
Source: ILL
          Publication: Illawarra Mercury
Section: News
Page: 3
A BUILDER who claims to hold a sterling safety record repeatedly ignored warnings that could have prevented a labourer from suffering horrific injuries.

Steve Saad spent nearly three weeks in hospital with a fractured skull and brain injuries after plunging more than 7m onto a concrete floor during construction of the Platinum on Crown building in Wollongong in July 2006.

The accident occurred despite a workplace safety inspector earlier ordering Rocco Natoli's construction company to immediately improve unsatisfactory safety practices.

The Industrial Court of NSW recently fined Mr Natoli $24,000 for failing to prevent the accident and two later near misses.

Mr Natoli was the co-director of the building's principal contractor, Apex Building Services.

The company went into liquidation in 2007 with debts of nearly $2.5 million, according to Australian Securities and Investment Commission documents.

Mr Natoli is now the sole director of another firm, Dynabuild.

The Dynabuild website boasts a "sterling safety record to be proud of".

The Industrial Court of NSW described Mr Natoli's breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, to which he pleaded guilty, as "very serious".

A workplace safety inspector raised concerns on three occasions before Mr Saad's accident that subcontractors were working at heights without harnesses, safety lines or properly erected catch platforms.

Apex was issued with a formal notice to fix the problems, but did not. Seven days later, Mr Saad fell from a partially constructed formwork deck and onto a concrete floor, narrowly avoiding being impaled on steel rods.

"The conclusion is readily available based on the evidence that if Apex had ensured that appropriate measures were taken, the accident to Mr Saad would not have occurred," Justice Anna Backman concluded.

But despite the accident, Mr Natoli still failed to immediately address the deficiencies in Apex's safety systems.

The day after Mr Saad was rushed to hospital, workplace safety inspectors witnessed another worker, Joseph Karam, working on another unsafe platform, putting him at risk of a 3.6m fall.

Two weeks later, they found another, Ryan Stewart, also working on an unsafe platform, putting him at risk of a similar fall.

Mr Saad, the injured worker, was employed by Formcom Holdings Pty Ltd, a company contracted by Apex Building Services to provide internal scaffolding.

Formcom was last year fined $123,500 for its role in the three safety incidents.

Peter Karabelas, the sole director of Formcom, was fined $18,500. Another director of Apex, who was the site foreman, has not been prosecuted in relation to the three incidents.

The Mercury made repeated attempts to contact Mr Natoli but was unsuccessful.

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