Almost six years after the tragic death of Brisbane photographer, Chris Powell, who fell from an elevated work platform, a coronial inquest aims to prevent future accidents from happening.
Powell was shooting aerial photos, alongside his son, for an advertising campaign promoting luxury high-rise apartments when the 40 metre Elevated Work Platform’ (EWP) collapsed. While his son sustained serious injuries, Powell sadly passed away.
Powell worked as an aerial photographer for almost two decades, with his business kicking off in 1999 with a photo rig attached to a helium blimp.
According to the coronial inquest, the collapse happened when the rear passenger side of the truck holding the crane began to sink into the soft clay ground.
‘It was like a pie crust … it looked certain but beneath it was like plastic absorbed clay,’ said counsel assisting the coroner, Mark Plunkett.
Forensic engineering consultant, Paul Carnavas, said beneath the hard surface layer was a half metre of soft earth. ‘It may not be apparent to people investigating surface characteristics … you can set up something and not be aware of what’s underneath.’
The EWP machinery is highly sophisticated, with an advanced safety system that includes a computer to manage stability, but ‘safeguard systems are not able to rectify a sudden subsidence under an outrigger’, said Plunkett.
Queensland coroner, Donald MacKenzie, launched the inquest to examine the circumstances surrounding the death. But the focus is on future accident prevention rather than potential negligence.
‘This is not an investigation as to who is at fault, who is liable, or who is guilty of an offence,’ he said. ‘It is abundantly clear what went wrong. This is an inquest to search for a mechanism, which will probably be a legislative one, to prevent any repetition of this tragic event.’
Graphic designer, David Spittle, who worked alongside Powell to create 3D renderings of photos, said the EWP operator was initially concerned about the platform placement, but changed his mind after visiting the site.
Queensland Workplace Health and Safety principal inspector, Deborah Dargan, said EWP operators only receive basic certifications and often rely on practical experience, and mobile cranes have much stricter regulatory codes compared with EWPs. The inquest was also told it’s difficult for operators to obtain geotechnical reports to assess the suitability of sites.
To close the inquest, Powell’s father spoke via video about how all his family, including wife and three children, continue to mourn his loss.
‘When he died, there were six to eight firms in southeast Queensland doing similar work,’ he said. ‘As a testament to his skill, Christopher’s company had about 60 per cent of the market.’