Multiplex fined for crane-related death at the University of Canberra Hospital worksite

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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.

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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. 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.

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

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 readout.

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.

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.

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

“Every workplace fatality is heart-breaking and sends shock waves through our community,”

ACT Work Health and Safety Commissioner Jacqueline Agius offered her condolences to Mr Holtz’s family and expressed her sadness for the Canberra community.

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

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