Construction giant Multiplex fined $150,000 over Canberra worksite death

Construction company Multiplex has been fined $150,000 over the death of a construction worker on one of its building sites five years ago.

Herman Holtz, 62, was killed when a mobile crane trying to move a 10-tonne generator toppled on the University of Canberra Hospital worksite in 2016.

The crane's driver, Michael Watts, 49, pleaded guilty in the ACT Supreme Court to charges stemming from the accident last year, and received a 12-month suspended sentence.

Multiplex and RAR Cranes both pleaded guilty to safety breaches relating to Mr Holtz's death in court last month and were warned they faced a maximum fine of $1.5 million.

Today, Multiplex was fined $150,000 for failing to require the crane driver to complete a specific safety form before he started the lift.

Chief Justice Lorraine Walker described the offence as "far from the worst, but also not a trivial breach," and said the accident was foreseeable.

The court found the form was a good preventative safety measure that would have provided a level of protection for Mr Holtz.

"By not requiring Mr Watts to fill out the form, Multiplex did not ensure this process was followed," she said.

"As a result, Mr Holtz was exposed to a risk of death or injury."

Court documents released last month showed Mr Watts knew the generator's weight would push the crane to its limit, so he and another worker fitted a counterweight.

But the documents also showed the counterweight was fitted the wrong way around, which caused the crane's computer to display the wrong information.

A crane on its side at the construction site.
Multiplex and RAR Cranes both pleaded guilty to safety breaches relating to Mr Holtz's death.(ABC News: Tom Lowrey)

Family's victim impact statements unable to be read in court

A number of Mr Holtz's family members were in court and became emotional as the sentence was read out.

The court decided their victim impact statements would not be read or taken into account during sentencing.

That was because the breach itself did not necessarily cause the death, but rather exposed the victim to the risk of death.

Chief Justice Walker said it would be speculative to suggest the death would have been prevented if the form was filled out.

"Mr Holtz died, but not necessarily as a result of offending by Multiplex," she said.

She acknowledged the fine would in no way ease the burden of the family.

But Chief Justice Walker said she was satisfied that it was a one-off oversight on the part of Multiplex, rather than being indicative of a flagrant disregard for safety.

The company has apologised for its part in the tragedy and in a statement said Mr Holtz was a "much loved" employee.

RAR Cranes, the contractor responsible for operating the crane, is also accused of a safety breach and will face court in January.

In a statement, ACT Work Health and Safety Commissioner Jacqueline Agius offered her condolences to Mr Holtz's family and expressed her sadness for the Canberra community.

"Every workplace fatality is heart-breaking and sends shock waves through our community," she said.

"Every worker has the right to a safe workplace and the right to return home safely at the end of their shift.

"Poor safety practices and culture in any workplace that put human life at risk will not be tolerated."

Posted 12 Nov 202112 Nov 2021Fri 12 Nov 2021 at 6:32amShareCopy linkFacebookTwitterArticle share optionsShare this onFacebookTwitterLinkedInSend this byEmailMessengerCopy linkWhatsApp

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