A construction supervisor in Adelaide has pleaded guilty in court this week to breaching the Work Health and Safety Act. The charges relate to an incident in April 2017 when Luke Chenoweth poured flammable liquid onto an apprentice on a worksite in Woodville, SA, and then set the clothes of the apprentice on fire.
Mr Chenoweth and Jeffrey Rowe, a fellow supervisor, both faced the South Australian Employment Tribunal this week.
Prosecutor Laura Willows explained to the court that Chenoweth instigated the incident, splashing flammable liquid onto the boot of the apprentice.
“He let the flames on his boot go out and he didn’t say anything, he just wanted to get away from Chenoweth,” she said.
“Chenoweth followed him and squirted some more liquid onto the crotch area of the complainant.
“It was at this point the complainant became particularly scared … so he ran away.”
However, Ms Willows said the two supervisors followed the apprentice and both squirted more lighter fluid on the young worker’s shirt and ignited it.
“[The apprentice] felt intense heat instantly and he was pulling his shirt away from his skin and waving his arms to try and put the flames out,” she said.
“He could smell burnt hair and he was worried he had been seriously burnt.”
The court heard that the apprentice was not severely physically injured, but that he would have suffered second-degree burns if he hadn’t removed the clothing.
It was also presented to the court that the apprentice was the subject of ongoing and consistent bullying in the lead up to the incident.
Ms Willows said the apprentice had previously been tied to a ladder with duct tape, had his arms and face covered with silicon and permanent marker and had been locked in a shipping container.
“The defendant was in a position of authority on the building site being a supervisor and the victim was an apprentice,” Ms Willows said.
Counsel for the defence attempted to explain that Mr Chenoweth had falling victim to an unhappy work culture on the site.
“He wanted to achieve in that workplace and that involved not only being good at his job … but it also involved falling into a culture and pattern of behaviour … that he would never normally engage in.”
Chenoweth has yet to be sentenced but faces a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment or a $300,000 fine, or both.
Earlier this year – as reported here – Rowe was convicted and fined $12,000 by the tribunal for his involvement.