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Mars Commercial fined after employee paralysed in fall at Sydney worksite

Mars Commercial fined after employee paralysed in fall at Sydney worksite
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Read Time:3 Minute, 32 Second

A NSW company has been fined more than $400,000 after a worker became paralysed in a fall at a construction site.

Martin Comiskey, who had 20 years’ experience as a qualified carpenter, was subcontracted to work at a site in Sydney’s CBD in November 2020 when he fell about 7-8m down a void, from a level 3 mezzanine, where a lift had been removed.

Another worker at the site saw Comiskey fall and hit the scaffolding which had been erected in part of the void.

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Other workers who were also there moved some planks underneath the tradie to stop him falling further.

“It was apparent that he would have fallen further had he not landed on the planks which partially closed the void on level 2,” Judge Wendy Strathdee said in a sentencing judgement handed down last week.

Emergency services extracted Comiskey from the void and he was taken to hospital for treatment.

A view of the building where the incident occurred. Credit: Google Maps

His injuries were “substantial” and he became paralysed from the chest down, suffered multiple skull fractures and post-traumatic amnesia.

He had extensive surgery to his head and had two rods inserted in his back and plates in both forearms.

Following the incident, Mars Commercial Pty Ltd was charged by SafeWork NSW with one offence of failing in its duty to ensure the health and safety of its workers, and in doing so, exposed them to a risk of death or serious injury.

In a “harrowing” victim impact statement submitted to the District Court of NSW as part of sentencing proceedings, Comsikey described the impact of the incident.

“To be honest for the most part I stick my head in the sand in regard to how my injury is affecting my life,” Comiskey said in an excerpt of his statement.

“I’ve been told I’ve a positive attitude still and people tell me how strong they think I am.

“Some people see a quadriplegic like me in a chair and think we can’t walk and this is our biggest problem.

“I’ve learned that this is only one of the many, many physical problems that come with my injury.

“For example, my bowel and bladder symptoms and muscle spasms affect me greatly every day.

“I would say it’s not taken away my hope for some sort of future. But definitely my passion.”

A SafeWork investigation following the incident found there were no materials covering the void.

Months before Comiskey fell, the company was issued with two improvement notices by SafeWork NSW to improve the management of risk of falls at the site.

However, no effort was made by the company to eliminate or mitigate the risk of falls on the mezzanine level.

In handing down a sentence to Mars Commercial, Judge Strathdee said the offence was serious and the seriousness of the foreseeable harm to a worker was significant.

“The steps available to avoid the risk were straightforward and available to the defendant,” she said.

Following the incident, the company installed fencing around the void and allocated a specific supervisor for level 3 at the site.

“I would say it’s not taken away my hope for some sort of future. But definitely my passion.”

Mars Commercial pleaded guilty to the charge and was fined $412,500.

“Prior to the incident, Mr Comiskey was a very active, hands-on person and having grown up as a carpenter, his ego and pride revolved a lot around being a hard worker and getting things done,” Judge Strathdee said.

“That ability was tragically ripped from him after the incident.

“Mr Comiskey had dreamt of working towards owning and living on a small property and bringing up his children as he had been raised, living on a farm in Ireland and building or fixing things around the property.

“He has not been able to return to Ireland since the accident, despite having returned every year prior to the accident, such is his mental distress, and he misses his family terribly.”

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