Gran Designs fined $175,000 over death of teenager Mitchel Birkin at Yarloop construction site

Daryna ZadvirnaThe West Australian
Mitchel Birkin died when a concrete panel fell on him.
Camera IconMitchel Birkin died when a concrete panel fell on him. Credit: Supplied

A building company has been fined $175,000 over the death of a teenage worker, crushed by a falling one tonne concrete panel at a construction site in the State’s South West in 2017.

Mitchel Birkin, 19, was working for Gran Designs WA, helping rebuild a house lost in the devastating Yarloop bushfire when the panel fell on him causing catastrophic injuries.

The company pleaded guilty in the Bunbury Magistrate’s Court yesterday to five charges — the most serious of which was failing to provide and maintain a safe workplace, causing death. This charge attracted a $150,000 fine.

A further global fine of $25,000 was handed down for a number of other offences, including workers not wearing safety helmets, not having a safety management plan, not having a safe work method statement on site and workers not holding high risk work licences.

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Magistrate Belinda Coleman said the original fines totalled $230,000 before she discounted the amount due to mitigating circumstances.

Grief Counsellor Laurissa Knowleswith friend and client Kylie Birkin with a photo of Kylie's son Mitchel.
Camera IconGrief Counsellor Laurissa Knowleswith friend and client Kylie Birkin with a photo of Kylie's son Mitchel. Credit: Michael Philipps

The 2017 incident happened while Gran Designs workers were building a home, using imported pre-cast tilt-up concrete panels that had arrived in an open-top sea container.

In the course of moving the concrete panels, one panel weighing between 750kg and 1.1 tonnes was removed from the sea container by a crane and stored out of the way temporarily by leaning it up against a row of five tree stumps.

The chains attaching the panel to the crane were removed but the panel was not secured to the tree stumps. Tragically, it fell onto Mr Birkin who had been guiding it into place, crushing him.

Following his death, Mr Birkin’s father, Rod, described his son as a great child, who had never caused his parents any heartache.

“He had a loving, gentle nature and loved his family immensely,” Mr Birkin said.

“We will always be proud of our son.”

WorkSafe WA Commissioner Darren Kavanagh said the case was a tragic example of several factors conspiring to result in a terrible outcome.

“This company neglected its duty of care, not properly identifying and assessing potential hazards or taking steps to reduce or eliminate the risks, culminating in the sad death of a young worker,” Mr Kavanagh said.

“On this job there was a serious lack of safety systems, highlighted by the lack of helmets being worn on the site that day despite the obvious risks.”

Mr Kavanagh said the tilt-up panel left to lean against the tree stumps should have instead been safely laid flat.

“This company failed to ensure that basic safety systems were in place and it led to a young man sadly losing his life, so I hope others will learn from this case and ensure workers are protected from any hazards in their workplaces,” he said.

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