When clients won’t pay for safety

It is not your site, who is responsible, you or your client?

Letting your client set the WHS agenda is truly a risk, a risk to your business, a risk to your employees and certainly a risk to your reputation. Here’s why;

With experience and understanding of the risks involved in any work, you know the right, and safe, way to do it. Sometimes circumstances get in the way of this actually being put into practice. It might be deadlines, unforeseen changes, or that your client isn’t willing to pay for the safe way. Sorry to say, none of the above are accepted as defenses for not meeting your WHS duties.

When your competitors are not investing in safety, it may be tempting to follow their lead, taking shortcuts to win work. A recent case however, has highlighted the risks of this approach for both the client and contractors who do not stand firm in their pricing for safety.

The situation

A construction company provided a quote to their client which included using catch decks when cutting concrete slabs. The decks were recommended to manage the risk of falls and falling objects. The client didn’t want to fork out the $16,000 to do the job safely and rejected this quote. The construction company agreed to go ahead with the work employing a cheaper work method. This method considered, but did not eliminate the risk of falling objects and left the workers at height without protection. The changed work method was also not documented in an amended quote or safe work method statement (SWMS).

The outcome

During the works, three of the construction company’s workers fell. Two were seriously injured and the other only narrowly avoided the same fate.

The fallout

The client was fined $90,000 for refusing the initial quote.

The construction company was fined $120,000 for exposing the three workers to risk of death or serious injury. The fine was reduced by 25% for their guilty plea.

The judge’s comments reinforced that it was the construction company’s responsibility to have found another way of safely performing the job or not accepting the work. This means that you must take responsibility for your own team, do not let a client or any other party set a WHS standard that is not compliant.

This case also shows that choosing the cheaper method may be much more costly in the long run. Clients have the ability to influence safety on site when negotiating prices and awarding work. Considering more than just price and trusting that the contractor understands the risks involved in their work are essential. There may be additional costs for working safely, but the risk of not implementing safe work procedures is far greater.

We all think it is obvious that a safe and healthy workplace should be the goal of everyone. This means that each party needs to play their part in ensuring health and safety. When clients, contractors, and workers are all on board, life changing incidents like this one can be prevented.

Improvement in WHS for construction work is high on the agenda for SafeWork Australia and WorkSafe QLD.

Need help ensuring safety compliance?

For advice or more information on WHS employer/PCBU responsibility, construction safety and SWMS, you can get in touch with Masula Compliance.

We work with businesses of all sizes and industries, to customise work health and safety systems to ensure legal compliance and peace of mind.

For more information on complying with new codes of practice for your business, or to book a complimentary consultation, get in touch with the team from Masula Compliance on 07 3348 3666 or email info@masulacompliance.com.au