With so much technology available to assist with calculations and decision-making, a recent court decision found that relying purely on professional judgment may not be sufficient to protect against claims of lack of due diligence.  

The District Court of NSW decision in SafeWork NSW v Grasso Consulting Engineers Pty Ltd; SafeWork NSW v Ignazio Grasso highlights the importance of staying abreast of technological advancements in order to comply with health and safety obligations.

Grasso Consulting Engineers (GCE) provided demolition advice to a business demolishing the roof structure of a large entertainment complex. Whilst the advice was being followed a section of the roof structure suddenly collapsed, trapping two workers.

The demolition advice was based on the personal judgement and ‘hand’ calculations of GCE’s sole director, a structural engineer, who failed to predict the risk of structural collapse. Reliable and readily available computer modelling software was not used to test the demolition advice. The use of modelling software was found to be a reasonably practicable step GCE failed to take. The director was found to have failed to exercise due diligence by not ensuring GCE took this step.

The decision is interesting in that it provided the Court with a rare opportunity to examine the actions of engineers and designers in the safety space and consider the role of technology. Notably, the court found the director’s reliance on his own calculations and professional judgement did not protect him against claims of a lack of due diligence. Whilst the Court acknowledged that the application of engineering judgement is a necessary and appropriate part of engineering practice, it found the exercise of that judgement in isolation to be potentially fallible. In failing to test his results against a readily accessible computer model, the director failed to simulate his demolition methodology to ensure it did not pose a risk to the health and safety of the workers involved.

Although this is a decision under the model work, health and safety legislation in operation in states including NSW, the lessons are equally applicable to Victorian employers, designers and engineers in respect of compliance with their safety duties under the Victorian OH&S Act.

CIE Legal regularly assists businesses with occupational health and safety issues including compliance with legislative health and safety duties.  Please get in touch of you would like to discuss these or other OH&S issues. 

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