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A Tamil refugee’s dreams of making Australia home were ripped away after he fell four metres from an upside-down excavator bucket on a Sydney demolition site.
The incident caused serious injuries and “heartbreaking” consequences for Kugenthiran Arumugam and has resulted in his former employer Greater Civil being hit with total penalties of $618,750.
On Thursday, District Court Judge Wendy Strathdee convicted the construction firm and issued the fines, finding the company exposed its workers to the risk of serious injury and death.
It also failed to notify SafeWork NSW of the accident promptly after it occurred on August 21, 2019.
At the time, Greater Civil, under the directorship of Hamza ‘Harry’ Jamal Taleb, was engaged to demolish a single-storey building in the northwest Sydney suburb of Vineyard.
Site supervisor Jamal ‘Jimmy’ Taleb used a Caterpillar excavator fitted with an upside-down bucket to lift workers to elevated locations on the building.
“The bucket was not designed to transport and/or lift men to work at height, or for use as a safe working platform,” Judge Strathdee said.
While Mr Arumugam and another worker Prasanth Thiruchelvamaran were atop the bucket, it detached from the excavator’s arm, causing the two men to fall four metres onto a concrete slab.
Mr Arumugam was taken to Westmead Hospital where he was diagnosed with fractures to his jaw, ribs, neck and arm. Mr Thiruchelvamaran was not injured.
Judge Strathdee said Mr Arumugam’s handwritten victim impact statement in Tamil showed how the injuries had scuppered his chance to work and live in Australia after arriving here by boat from Sri Lanka in 2012.
“The details of the VIS were heartbreaking,” she wrote.
Mr Arumugam wrote that it was “disheartening” that his boss Ramzi Mohamad of contractor Astute Earth Works had not been in touch to see how he was doing since the accident.
He also said he would like to return to Australia but couldn’t.
“Australia is a country that I really like and is also the country that I loved the most. I would like to come back to Australia,” he wrote.
“I can’t work there due to the condition that my hand is in at the moment. Therefore, after I strengthen my left hand, I will definitely come to Australia if I get the opportunity to do so.”
Forced to live on a liquid diet for three months, Mr Arumugam was also unable to find work as a result of a weakened left hand. After living off funds from his family as well as temporary workers compensation, he eventually returned to Sri Lanka in February this year.
“Mr Arumugam has suffered greatly as a result of this incident and continues to do so with little hope in sight,” Judge Strathdee wrote.
She found Greater Civil wrote out its risk prevention strategies in English but failed to account for workers from non-English speaking backgrounds.
The firm neglected to properly train its staff and did not conduct regular inspections of equipment such as the excavator, she added.
“The seriousness of the foreseeable harm to a worker was extreme, and the steps available to avoid the risk were known, or ought to have been known, by the defendant and were straightforward.”
SafeWork NSW was also not notified of the incident until August 23, 2019. However, this was done by Westmead Hospital counsellor Thomi Coutas and not by Greater Civil.
In issuing the fines, Judge Strathdee allowed a 25 per cent discount due to an early guilty plea in July this year.
Australian Associated Press
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