A recent decision of the New South Wales Court of Appeal outlines the head contractor’s duty of care requirements and provides a timely reminder that head contractors cannot reasonably be expected to continuously supervise or intervene in all activities being performed at a work site.
The decision of Murray v Sheldon Commercial Interiors Pty Ltd  NSWCA 77 centres around Mr Murray who was installing a window on a construction site. While on site he fell from a ladder and sustained injury. He alleged that the reason he fell was due to the build-up of dust on the rungs of the ladder which occurred a result of some sanding work being undertaken by another nearby subcontractor. According to Mr Murray, excessive dust was being distributed because of a fault in the vacuum attached to the sanding machine.
Mr Murray commenced proceedings against the head contractor, Sheldon Commercial Interiors, alleging its negligence caused his accident.
The NSWCA found that Mr Murray failed to establish any breach of duty. Mr Murray needed to show that the head contractor should have noted that excessive dust was being deposited by sanding in the vicinity of Mr Murray’s work and then done something about it. Mr Murray failed to establish this. Instead, the NSWCA held that the size of the site and the limited time in which the sanding took place were important considerations in determining that a breach of duty of care had not occurred.
Head contractors should still always be mindful of their obligations to all of those on site but head contractors cannot be reasonably expected to supervise all subcontractors on site at all times.
Disclaimer – This article was intended to be a general overview of basic legal concepts, NOT legal advice. As each situation varies, it is recommended that individuals seek the advice of a qualified lawyer if needed.
Last Updated: 25 July 2016
Article by Richelle Cuthbertson, Compete Contract Solutions Pty Ltd