Construction company Pipecon Pty Ltd will stand trial next year for allegedly failing to provide a safe working environment and safe supervision for their employees.

It follows the deaths of 34-year-old Charlie Howkins and 21-year-old Jack Brownlee in a trench collapse in Ballarat last year.

Court documents show the men had been carrying out trenching and pipe laying works at a housing development in the suburb of Delacombe on March 21, 2018, when a trench collapsed, engulfing the men.

Mr Howkins died at the scene, while Mr Brownlee died in hospital the following day.

Magistrate Gregory Robinson heard evidence from eight witnesses over two days, including the Worksafe Victoria inspectors who attended the incident, prior to making his decision.

The Director of Pipecon, Andrew Mahar pleaded not guilty on the company’s behalf to breaching several requirements of Section 21 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

‘Nightmare journey’

Speaking outside court, Mr Howkins’ wife, Lana Cormie, spoke emotionally about the case.

“We started a nightmare journey that we never should have been put into on the 21st of March 2018, and each of these events just continues the nightmare that is now our lives,” Ms Cormie said.

Throughout the committal hearing, the court heard about what safety measures should have been in place in the manhole to reduce the risk of a trench collapse.

On day two of the committal, Worksafe inspectors Mark Glenister and David Rogers spoke of seeing Mr Brownlee while he was still conscious at the site, but neither of the inspectors said they had spoken with him.

“I only saw him talking with paramedics,” Mr Glenister said.”

The directions outlined in the Safe Work Method Statement of using battering, benching or trench shields to reduce the risk of collapse were tendered as evidence.

Referring to Mr Rogers’ report about the incident, Defence Barrister Stephen Russell said the inspector had made a criticism of the statement, saying that it did not identify which of those three safety measures should have been used.

But Mr Russell highlighted that the same statement had been approved by inspectors at other Pipecon sites on a number of occasions.

A directions hearing will be held at the Ballarat Magistrates Court in January 2020.



By Sarah Jane Bell

December 04, 2019