SA Coroner recommends spotters on construction sites to save lives: Inquest findings into death of Jorge Castillo-Riffo

Published: 1 Nov 2018

In a finding with ramifications for every construction site around the country, The South Australian Coroner has recommended that spotters be used whenever scissor lifts are operated on construction sites in order to save construction workers’ lives.

The Coroner today handed down his findings in the inquest into the death of Jorge Castillo-Riffo who was crushed to death by a scissor lift on a Leighton Hansen Yuncken contractors site in Adelaide in 2014.

The Coroner’s findings confirm there was no proper assessment of the risks and if there had been, Mr Castillo-Riffo would be here today.

The Coroner recommended that COAG examine standardisation of scissor lift controls, and that there be funding for families to be legally represented at Inquests.

The Coroner was particularly damning of SafeWork SA, stating: I am dismayed that SafeWork SA would effectively wipe its hands of any responsibility to assist in the process of establishing the cause and circumstances of the death of a worker at a fatal industrial accident.

The findings detailed evidence by a Leighton Hansen Yuncken that Jorge’s work ‘wasn’t on our radar’.

Jorge Castillo-Riffo’s partner, Pam Gurner-Hall, with the support of the CFMEU, fought for an inquest into Jorge’s death for four years.

Pam Gurner-Hall said:
“I welcome the Coroner’s recommendation for spotters on every scissor lift. This would have saved Jorge’s life.

“I call on every construction company in the country that is using scissor lifts to immediately put spotters on all scissor lift operations.

“I am also extremely relieved that the Coroner established the cause of Jorge’s death was that he was crushed by the scissor lift.

“Leighton Hansen Yuncken inferred in their evidence that he died of a heart attack. It was another attempt to evade accountability.

“They have hidden behind legal professional privilege. Their own adviser in evidence admitted that the work that Jorge was doing was ‘not on their radar’.

“Leighton Hansen Yuncken need to now do what they have never done before, and say sorry.

“I thank the Coroner for his findings about the cause of Jorge’s death, and the recommendations for spotters and standardisation of scissor lifts.

“This is the closest we will get to justice for Jorge. If even one more construction worker’s life is saved, that will be Jorge’s legacy.”

CFMEU National Construction Secretary Dave Noonan said:

“Leighton Hansen & Yuncken failed Jorge. They failed to provide a safe workplace.

“They put deadlines and profit before the safety of their workers, and the regulator, SafeWork SA, did not hold them to account.

“The findings of the Coroner’s Inquest are a damning indictment on the company, the regulator, and the culture of corporations over people.

“It’s very clear that the rules are well and truly broken and the system is stacked against people’s right to a safe workplace.

“The Coroner has made it abundantly clear: if you don’t have a spotter on scissor lifts, it’s not safe.

“Every construction site around the country must take this up starting today. And it’s incumbent on every safe work regulator in the country to ensure they do so.

“The union will relentlessly pursue the changes that the Coroner has recommended to save workers’ lives.”

The Coroner made important recommendations around standardisation of scissor lift controls.

There are two major brands of scissor lifts in Australia, and the controls are different on each of them. It is not uncommon for the two different models to be used on the same construction site, with operators switching between the two on a daily basis.

The Coroner has recommended standardisation of scissor lift controls be dealt with at COAG.

Key recommendations in the Coroner’s findings:

  • Scissor lifts not be operated unless there is a person on the ground operating as a spotter and who is available at all times to take steps to activate the emergency lowering mechanism should that be necessary. (Until standardisation is achieved)
  • Standardising scissor lift controls be elevated to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG)
  • Funding to enable families to be legally represented in Inquests, for deaths in custody and generally.


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Authorised by Michael O'Connor, National Secretary, 540 Elizabeth St Melbourne Vic 3000