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Laing O’Rourke faces safety charges after fatal cyclone

Construction giant Laing O’Rourke is facing court in Australia over allegations it failed to maintain a safe work environment when a deadly cyclone tore through a camp in the west of the country last year.

Two people were killed and seven others seriously injured when Cyclone George swept through the Western Australian base of mining firm Fortescue Metals - owned by Australia’s wealthiest man, Andrew Forrest - where Laing had been appointed to construct and maintain an iron ore railway.

Laing is one of eight companies being prosecuted by government safety authority WorkSafe WA for health and safety breaches following a 16-month investigation.

The UK-based contractor, which is facing two charges, could be hit with fines of up to £360,000.

WorkSafe WA said it was prosecuting Laing for “failing to provide and maintain a safe work environment, and by that failure, causing serious harm to an employee and an employee of the contractor”.

Each charge has a maximum penalty of £161,000, but neither relate to the two deaths on the site.

A total of 49 charges have been laid against eight companies involved, including operator Fortescue Metals Group, its subsidiary Pilbara Infrastructure and construction firm BGC Contracting.

Laing, which declined to comment on the trial when contacted by Construction News, was one of seven of the firms not to enter a plea in the group’s first appearance before the Perth Magistrates Court. BGC Contracting, which is facing four charges, pleaded not guilty.

The cyclone hit Western Australia’s Pilbara region in March 2007.

Workers Debra Till, 47, and Craig Allen Raabe, 42, were killed and 28 people injured - seven seriously - after winds of up to 275km/h destroyed the camp.

WorkSafe WA commissioner Nina Lyhne said the number of charges brought against the firms “demonstrated the breadth of occupational safety and health responsibilities”.

She said: “The investigation into the tragic deaths during Cyclone George was a significant and complex one.

“In the early stages WorkSafe worked closely with WA Police, and throughout the investigation we have made information available to the public and other agencies with an interest in the outcome.

“This has included the issuing of two safety bulletins, reminders to local government authorities on WorkSafe’s reporting requirements for building and construction projects and ongoing consultation with agencies responsible for emergency preparedness and response.
“It is now a matter for the courts to determine.”

The hearing has been listed from 10 December.

Laing down under

Laing O’Rourke began operations in Australia in 2004.

The acquisition in 2006 of Barclay Mowlem, one of Australia’s multi-disciplinary construction and services companies, allowed the group to accelerate its growth plans on the continent.

The firm has worked on a range of health and education projects, including Queensland University of Technology, as well as mine-related infrastructure.

Recent contracts include a £66 million joint venture for major installation works at a mine in Western Australia’s Kimberley region for Rio Tinto subsidiary Argyle Diamonds.