Do you understand your business’ safety obligations required for WHS compliance? If not, we hope this article might help encourage you to revisit this important aspect more closely. A NSW small business was recently fined a record $1 million for Work Health & Safety (WHS) offences. The NSW District Court found that WGA Pty Ltd had breached it’s safety obligations under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 by exposing a sub-contractor to risk of death or serious injury.

Business Fined $1M for Safety Breach – In a record fine, the NSW District Court found that WGA Pty Ltd had breached it’s safety obligations under the WHS Act 2011 by exposing a sub-contractor to risk of death or serious injury. The maximum penalty for the offence is $1.5 million.

There were many warning signs for WGA Pty Ltd leading up to the incident however these were not addressed by the sole director of WGA.

How it happened

WGA Pty Ltd, the principal contractor for a multi-storey residential construction project, engaged a sub-contractor to install windows on the King Georges Rd site in Sydney. The sub-contractor sustained an electric shock when the aluminium angle the sub-contractor was holding came into contact with high voltage overhead powerlines.

The sub-contractor was installing angles whilst standing on scaffolding near high voltage powerlines at the time. Witnesses report that there was an explosion and the sub-contractor was thrown backwards onto the scaffolding and appeared to be on fire. The sub-contractor regrettably suffered significant and long-lasting injuries with burns to 30% of their body, required multiple surgeries, spent 3 months’ in hospital immediately after the incident and has been unable to work since the incident.


In handing down the judgement, the Judge considered:

  • The seriousness of the offence
  • The extent of the injury suffered by the sub-contractor
  • That WGA Pty Ltd:
    • was aware of the risk
    • was warned multiple times of the risk by authorities
    • took no precautions to avoid a known risk

Warning Signs:

SafeWork NSW Inspectors attended the site multiple times on advice from Ausgrid and Sydney Trains of the site’s unsafe work practices and issued WGA Pty Ltd with multiple improvement notices.

In the two days before the incident, Sydney Trains advised WGA Pty Ltd that a proposed isolation of power could not proceed and works could not yet commence.

WGA Pty Ltd pleaded with the sub-contractor to complete the job without notifying the sub-contractor of the risks or the advice from Sydney Trains to not proceed with works.

This was WGA’s first construction project, they had no previous building experience and the sole director ran a business so could not always be on site to supervise the work.


As a business, we have obligations to ensure the safety for all our workers – including any sub-contractors that are engaged.

From recent changes to Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws – businesses, owners and directors have an increased liability and exposure to substantially higher penalties for WHS breaches.

If you need any assistance with directors’ liability insurance, WHS advice or support – please contact Ability Group.

Safe Work (NSW) v WGA Pty Ltd [2017] NSWDC 91 (10 April 2017)