08:45 am, Thursday 11 March, 2010
A workplace health and safety lawyer says homeowners may soon face prison sentence of up to six years if a worker gets injured or killed on their property.
The alert comes on the heels of a court decision holding a Sydney homeowner liable for an electrician‘s death in 2004.
Allan Harley was working on the Sydney home when he came into contact with a live wire, leading to his electrocution.
Just last week, the New South Wales District Court ordered the homeowner to pay the widow of Mr Harley $70,000 in compensation.
In his decision, the judge said the owner was aware, or ought to have been, that the live wire had been left exposed when a hot water system was removed years earlier.
Michael Toomah of the law firm Norton Rose says many homeowners are unaware of their responsibility to people who work on their premises.
“We owe that duty as a matter of law,” he said.
“I think that case will come as a surprise to a number of homeowners, but it is pretty consistent with where the law stands at the moment.”
According to Mr Toomah, homeowners have to take reasonable care to ensure that a task is safe before they ask a tradesperson to do it.
“That requires a bit of vigilance on their part when they are commissioning work,” he said.
The move to harmonise the Occupational Health and Safety Laws of all states will see this liability become a criminal matter from 2012.
“The fact that they are doing work at a home makes the home for that period a workplace,” Mr Toomah says.
“It means that the people at that workplace have a duty to that workman.”
Mr Toomah says a homeowner’s negligence would constitute a breach, with a corresponding criminal offence.
“[That offence] attracts penalties of up to $300,000 and/or six years’ imprisonment in a really serious case,” he said.
Mr Toomah says vigilance by homeowners is important especially if they have availed of the Federal Government’s criticised ceiling insulation scheme.
“That is precisely the sort of situation where you would want to go back and have another look at the work that has been done, and make sure that your home is safe for you and your family.
“I think certainly the insulation scheme debacle has given people a wake-up call as to the sort of things that could happen when shonky work goes on in your home.”