Fletcher Construction admits health and safety breach

Fletcher Construction could be fined up to $250,000 after admitting a health and safety breach.

Construction worker Chris Ngatai broke his neck and suffered serious head injuries when he fell 2.8m off a ladder while working on the deconstruction of the earthquake-damaged Hotel Grand Chancellor in Christchurch on January 20.

It was feared the 42-year old father-of-eight, of Linwood in Christchurch, might die from his injuries, and he was in an induced coma for several weeks.

Fletcher Construction Company Ltd admitted the charge at Christchurch District Court today.

It admitted failing to "take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of its employees while at work".

The Department of Labour investigated the fall, which has been the most high-profile incident since the massive demolition process of the quake-decimated city's CBD.

The 28-storey building, Christchurch's tallest, was being taken down floor by floor in a massive process described as New Zealand's biggest ever demolition project.

Before each floor was deconstructed the floor was stripped.

While work was being done to remove columns and beams, a colleague saw Mr Ngatai, who had worked at Fletchers for six years, fall from a ladder between floors 23 and 24.

A Department of Labour probe found there were several breaches of the Health and Safety in Employment Act.

According to a statement of facts, health and safety inspectors found the ladder he was using was damaged and "in poor condition", while another Fletcher ladder was also damaged.

An investigation concluded that exposed work edges meant workers could have fallen to lower levels of the hotel.

A digger work platform exposed riggers to a fall, and although Fletchers had guarded the perimeter of the building with guard rails internally, there were large areas of floor slab with unguarded edges exposing workers to a fall from height.

It also found the floor area where the accident occurred had 'penetrations' which had been covered "loosely" with plywood and were not adequately secured or identified with signage.

The Department of Labour made four recommendations for Fletchers to undertake to improve safety, which they have since done.

It said workers should be protected by working at height from within an enclosed platform, and guardrails or bump rails should be placed around exposed perimeter edges.

The company should also cover floor penetrations and warn workers by erecting signs.

Ladders should also be "fit for purpose" and "tied off or footed".

Judge Gary Macaskill remanded the firm for sentencing next month.


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