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The Swanston Street Wall Collapse Report

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Updated: Sep 6th, 2019

The collapse of the Swanston Street Wall, which resulted in death of three young civilians, has attracted public’s attention as to the possible causes of the tragedy.

According to the Victorian Bureau of Metrology, westerly winds had a speed of over 100km/h, at around 3.00pm, minutes before the wall collapsed (Gough & Millar 2013).

In-depth analysis and scrutiny of the brickwork and its environs divulge possible contributory factors that might have led to the collapse of the wall.

Even though the speed of wind was extremely high, across check on the wall four months prior to the incident revealed huge cracks at its foot and parts of its body.

Engineering experts hold that the cracks on the wall created points of weaknesses; therefore, it was extremely impossible for the wall to resist the strong winds. In essence, the cracks on the wall contributed heavily to the occurrence of the tragedy.

The wall had Grocon’s advertising board, which was 45 centimetres taller than the brick wall. Since the board was higher than the brick wall, it acted as a sail, and during strong westerly winds, it cannot block their influence.

The advertising structure concentrated winds to the wall, forcing it to rotate and collapse. Grocon did not apply structural control joints in mounting the hoarding next to the brick wall. In situations of load like strong winds, each structure acts independently to contain the impeding effects.

Structural joint separation helps in minimizing fatalities on a system in case of hazardous occurrences (The Wall: Site Analysis Summary 2013). Besides, the overall design and site layout caused the fall of the brick wall, as they placed great pressure on the wall’s weakest points.

According to Victoria Police reports, the collapse of the wall at the construction site in Melbourne CBD took away lives of three innocent passers-by and caused injuries to other people who might have left the scene before the arrival of the rescue team.

The three pedestrians were French researcher Dr Marie-Faith Fiawoo, Alexander Jones, and his sister Bridget Jones. The incident has prompted the Building Commission, Coroner, WorkSafe, and Victoria Police to conduct investigations into the collapse of the wall along Swanton Street.

Notably, the City of Melbourne does not only have to participate in the investigations, but also conduct thorough auditing of similar structures within its territory (Gough & Millar 2013).

As part of containing or preventing future occurrences, the Planning Minister Matthew Guy instructed the Building Commission to identify other structures that can cause destructions to the public.

The investigation involves analysis on effects of the advertisement board, Grocon’s reluctance to start the construction since purchasing the site from RMIT University in 2006, and the legality of the wall built in early 1970s.

In addition, the investigators are analyzing the design of the structure given the extremely low number of metal ties that constructors used in holding the two bricks.

Currently, the Coroner Court is receiving testimonies from the concerned and interested parties into the possible causes of the deadly incident and criminal or civil prosecution to those found responsible for the collapse.

Investigating authorities have taken relevant information and materials from Grocon through their spokesperson detailing the records of the wall.

At the same time, RMIT University has forwarded detailed information about the construction site since they were the owners prior to 2007 (Drill 2013).

The accident that led to the deaths of three innocent pedestrians is an occurrence that happened due to negligence from different concerned parties.

For instance, institutions and companies had used the structures to mint millions for the past 30 years without caring on its possible effects to health and safety of the public and employees. The wall was adjacent to a footpath on Swanton Street, which pedestrians used frequently.

To worsen the situation, a wooden hoarding board blocked the wall from public’s view, thereby eliminating public’s anxiety on its possible collapse.

Constructed in late 1960s, the wall not heritage-registered as the law requires, and it violated the required heights for external walls of 1.8 meters high. In allowing the wall to remain standing for 40 years, the serial owners are both ethically and legally liable for the demise of the three pedestrians.

Photographs of the wall also showed that constructors used different bricks bringing in possibilities of brick recycling; this might have weakened the structure further (Drill 2013).

In this aspect, the original owners of the wall, the brewery company, and the Melbourne City Council have to be answerable to the courts for engaging foul play in accepting construction of walls using wrong designs.

Markedly, constructors could have fixed the design and overall layout at the time of construction.

Grocon Construction Company is also responsible for the pedestrians’ deaths. When they bought the site from RMIT University in 2006, they promised to start constructions and reconstructions in 2007, which never occurred (Sun & Drill 2013).

Since the construction company had all the reports on the state of the perimeter fence from the university, it is evident that their neglect on the wall led to the actual loss of lives. If the company could have kept its promise of 2007, there could not have been such fatalities.

From another perspective, after comprehending the state of the wall, Grocon went on to mount huge advertisement board that acted as sails (Heaton 2013). This amounts to carelessness and negligence on the company’s side.

The company did not consider the safety of the passers-by in mounting the board on an already weak wall; instead, it focused on direct gains from the public. WorkSafe and Victoria Police should consider these aspects in prosecuting Grocon at the Coroner court.

In 2011, the WorkSafe authority visited the site, and it ought to have raised alarms on the possible consequences that the wall could have on employees and everyone. It is not clear what WorkSafe went to do at the site and the recommendations it gave forth.

However, this body has the authority to stop any dangerous construction or structure within Australia. From this dimension, Grocon as well as WorkSafe should be ethically and legally liable for the effects that arose from the debris.

In monitoring workplace practices, it is the duty of WorkSafe to enjoin the public and employees’ safety in its investigations.

Coupled with the photograph evidence of cracks on the wall, WorkSafe should have ordered for the total destruction of the entire wall, and instructed Grocon to hoist notices on the wall to alert the public of possible collapse (Drill 2013).

In analyzing the aforementioned lapses of the bodies, it is evident that the occurrence was foreseeable and could be preventable if they could have acted within the given time schedule.

For instance, if Carlton & United Breweries (CUB) could have adhered to the allowable height requirements and use one form of bricks by the architectural bodies in 1960s, the wall could have not surged down due to strong winds.

System of laws, compliance codes, and regulations govern the workplace health and safety in Victoria, as they set out employers and workers’ responsibilities in order to enhance overall work safety.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 requires an employer to offer a safe and healthy place of work for all employees, contractors, and every other person.

Other health and safety obligations of the OHS require the services or business conduct of an employer not to endanger the lives of other people including passers-by, visitors, and customers (Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 n.d).

In connection to this, an employer ought to provide protection from debris at the sites, alert the public of possible hazardous factors, reduce the rate at which the public access the construction site, and even limit traffic access to his/her workplace.

In this study, OHS requires employers to meet specific licensing, certification and registration requirements, give early notification of impeding risks to WorkSafe, and comply with WorkSafe Inspectors Directions.

Following the Victorian OHS Act 2004, investigations by WorkSafe can end up to prosecutions of Grocon since it hoisted the wooden hoarding board without the certification or licensing from the Melbourne Council (Heaton 2013).

Further, the advertisement board blocked the weak structure of the wall from pedestrians who used the nearest footpath. From the case study, there is no instance where Grocon notified WorkSafe of the wall as a health and safety hazard.

Even though WorkSafe officials agreed to have visited the site much earlier, there is no proof to their analysis on the status of the wall.

This leaves Grocon as the sole bearer of the fatalities. In addition, Grocon failed to notify or control the public’s movement along the wall having been notified of the potential risks.

Again, Grocon failed to bring down the wall in accordance with the instructions from the reports that RMIT University had presented to them.

At the same time, RMIT University could also face prosecution for not bringing down the 40 years old wall, and going ahead to sell a health and safety hazard property.

Clearly, the University of RMIT was interested in gaining from the structure at the expense of the risks that could occur due to the collapse of the wall. Grocon and RMIT University are directly liable for the cause of the accident, and the Coroner should prosecute them for the same.

To some extent WorkSafe Victoria’s investigations at the site in 2011 can also raise possibilities for prosecution given that Coroner, Building Commission, and Victoria police are directed in the investigation process.

The involvement of many teams in the process may minimize chances of compromising the results of the investigation.

Failure by CUB to register the wall among the heritage structures is a clear violation of the act, thus raising the chances of prosecution (Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 n.d.). Several organisations face charges for their negligence; instead, they concentrated on minting money from the old structure.

The tragic accident has some must-learn lessons that public and employers like construction firms must consider in their future operations. For example, original owners of structures have to ensure that they present the audited reports that show the status of the structure as at the time of sales.

This helps in averting implications into the consequences that can arise due to the structure’s collapse. When engaging in auditing activities, WorkSafe should ensure that they inspect the conditions of all structures, and inform the employers of the risks at the place.

As evident in the 2011 audit report, WorkSafe has not come out clear on the recommendations it gave concerning the status of the wall. This tragedy can disclose WorkSafe officials as corrupt in their service provision.

For other companies to respect authority, WorkSafe should state clearly the contents of its 2011 audit of Grocon construction site in Melbourne’s CBD.

Moreover, construction companies must understand that their structures can be of great health and safety hazards to not only the employees, but also the public; therefore, they should alert everyone on this situation (Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 n.d.).

Firms should remove all structures that can cause harm to everyone in order to prevent prosecution and engaging in compensations to incidences that they could have evaded. Negligence can cause an immense loss to an organisation in terms of compensations.

In the Australian Construction Industry, 12% of fatalities are due to fall from heights. Falling objects have caused 16-compensated deaths over the 5-year period of 2005/06 to 2009/10.

The value represents reported cases only, keeping in mind that unreported cases are always higher than the reported; such fatalities remain potential risks to everyone.

Occupational Health and Safety (1993) asserts that falling walls and structures are preventable events that engineers can identify and disseminate the underlying causes in time.

It is essential for the engineering community to discuss and share information regarding failures of the structures under evaluation.

For engineering professionals to continue commanding public confidence, they should maintain high level of transparency at all costs (Workplace Relations Ministers’ Council 2004). Transparency will avert the risk of repeating mistakes.

For instance, engineers could have avoided the recent death of a tradesman at southeast Melbourne due to dramatic collapse of a two-storey building. In this Caulfield incident, another man sustained serious injuries. In sum, this industry reported over 17,000 injury claims in the last five years.

National OHS strategy 2002-2012 (2002) agrees that the replacement of the Australia’s National OHS Strategy 2002-2012 with the Australian Work Health Safety Strategy 2012-2022 will strongly reduce injuries and deaths resulting from falling objects and structural failures.

For example, under Healthy and Safe by design, engineers will be able to do away with any possible risks and hazards at the design stage.

This is evident in the construction of the collapsed wall; it had poor design and layout, and constructors used different bricks, which increased the chances of collapse (Planning occupational health & safety (5th ed.) 2000).

By minimizing failures at the design stage, the construction industry will have reduced injuries and deaths within their sites by a sizeable margin. The possibility of prosecuting individuals increases the primary duty of care for OHS on persons at the sites.

In harmonizing the legislation, all companies will be able to apply one standard in all the six states and two territories of Australia, thus providing open platforms for sharing ideas on design criteria. Designers should be accountable to the weaknesses that arise in a structure.

In the event of fatalities, Coroner should prosecute such designers even if they are not members of the construction company at the time the incident occurs.

Besides, the new strategy obliges designers to share information freely with others, failure to do so results in prosecution. The move will reduce injuries and deaths within the construction industry.


Drill, S. 2013, , Herald Sun. Web.

Gough, D., & Millar, R. 2013, , The Age. Web.

Heaton, A. 2013, No Permit for Advertising Board on Collapsed, Design Build Source. Web.

National OHS strategy 2002-2012 2002, The Commission, Canberra.

Occupational Health and Safety (Commonwealth Employment) Regulations (Amendment) 1993, Commonwealth Government Printer, Canberra.

, 2004, Victorian Legislation and Documentation. Web.

Planning occupational health & safety (5th ed.) 2000, C.C.H. Australia Ltd, North Ryde, N.S.W.

Sun, H., & Drill, S. 2013, , The Australian. Web.

, 2013, Melbourne City Council. Web.

Workplace Relations Ministers’ Council: comparative performance monitoring: comparison of occupational health and safety arrangements in Australia and New Zealand. (3rd ed.) 2004, National Occupational Health and Safety Commission, Canberra.

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