…purlins – supervisor instruction – principal contractor – independent contractor
The plaintiff was a bricklayer working at the construction of the Perth Stadium in 2016.
He was employed by a bricklaying company which had been engaged by a principal contractor to perform bricklaying works at the site.
The principal contractor had also engaged a supervisory company to supervise all of the works as between the independent contractors at the worksite. It was a large project with about 500 workers on site each day.
The plaintiff was constructing a wall for a toilet block when he encountered two overhead steel purlins that were in the way. He singlehandedly went to remove these purlins, when they then swung down and injured his left arm.
The plaintiff alleged that a supervisor on site instructed him to perform the task of removing the purlins himself, or alternatively it was reasonably foreseeable that bricklayers, when faced with this obstacle, would take it upon themselves to remove it.
It was the system of work that if any tradesman encountered an obstacle at the worksite which was not within their area of expertise, they were required to report the matter to the supervisory company who would then organise for the appropriate tradesman to attend and perform the works.
The plaintiff sued the principal contractor of the worksite and the supervisory company for negligence.
The plaintiff’s claim was dismissed against both defendants.
This was the type of case where the principal contractor owed a duty of care to users of its worksite, that the system of work adopted by its independent contractors to perform their works was safe in accordance with Stevens v Brodribb Sawmilling Co, & Leighton Contractors v Fox.1
When viewing the circumstances of the arrangement, the court held that:
(a) The principal contractor had acted reasonably in engaging suitably qualified independent contractors for each separate work task, and ensuring that a job safety analysis for the independent contractors’ work tasks was in place and enforced.
(b) The principal contractor had acted reasonably in engaging the supervisory company to oversee construction on the site.
(c) Independent contractors were not permitted under the system of work to do the work of other tradesmen located at the site. The removing of the purlins was technically a job for a steel rigger.
(d) Regardless, the plaintiff, knowing about this system, took it upon himself to remove the purlins himself contrary to this system, and caused his own injury.
(e) The plaintiff’s allegation that the supervisor instructed him to remove the purlins was rejected, as it was found the plaintiff lacked credibility and the instruction was implausible on the evidence.
This compensation law casenote appears courtesy of Travis Schultz & Partners (TSP), where the author, James Leggo, is an Associate. As part of the firm’s commitment to providing ongoing legal education, TSP practitioners review relevant judgments and prepare case summaries for the legal profession. A free searchable catalogue of compensation law casenotes is available at schultzlaw.com.au/case-summaries (registration required). The full version of the judgments can be found at austlii.edu.au.
1 (1986) 160 CLR 16; Leighton Contractors Pty Ltd v Fox (2009) 240 CLR 1;  HCA 35 at .