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Mum’s plea after 18yo crushed by scaffolding

Christopher Cassaniti
18-year-old Christopher Cassaniti (right) was killed when scaffolding at a Macquarie Park construction site collapsed on top of him in 2019. Picture: Supplied

The mother of an 18-year-old apprentice who was crushed in a fatal scaffolding collapse has called on the NSW government to push through industrial manslaughter laws so no other family faces the tragedy of losing their child in horrific workplace accidents.

In April 2019, Christopher Cassaniti died after an overloaded perimeter facade – about 18-tonnes over its maximum capacity – caved in, trapping himself and his colleague Khaled Wehbe at a Macquarie Park construction site.

Ties which should have connected the scaffolding to a corresponding building also had been removed.

Now his mum, Patrizia has called on NSW to catch up with other mainland states to legislate industrial manslaughter laws as its own offence.

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“I’ll never get justice for my son and it hurts. It’s something that you can’t accept but I’m hoping that families in the future won’t have to go through this anguish,” said Ms Cassaniti, describing her son as an “exceptional and kind kid”.

“I want those laws to be a deterrent and stop people doing the wrong thing and putting workers at risk of dying.”

Christopher Cassaniti
18-year-old Christopher Cassaniti was killed when scaffolding at a Macquarie Park construction site collapsed on top of him. Picture: Supplied

Her plea comes as the government prepares to introduce the legislation into parliament this week.

It’s understood the bill would make industrial manslaughter a criminal offence which would carry penalties of up to 25 years jail time and civil fines of up to $20m – the highest out of any jurisdiction.

Ms Cassaniti, who is set to speak alongside NSW Industrial Relations Minister Sophie Cotsis at a rally calling for the changes on Monday, says the new law would change lives.

“I would like to see this law not only put corporations and companies on alert, but also individuals,” she said.

“Managers, officers and workers should all be responsible for safety and if they are found to have done something that caused the death of a person through their negligence and reckless behaviour, I want to see them prosecuted to go to jail.

“We need to have a clear and concise message so that when people look at this law, they will stop unsafe work practices.”

The horrific accident happened just days after his 18th birthday. Picture: Supplied
The horrific accident happened just days after his 18th birthday. Picture: Supplied

According to recent polling by Pyxis Polling & Insights, NSW voters largely support industrial manslaughter becoming a legislated as an offence, with 68 per cent of 2040 interviewees responding positively.

Support was higher in regional areas (70 per cent) compared to metropolitan Sydney respondents (66 per cent), and above 60 per cent across the political spectrum.

While NSW the only state not that have industrial manslaughter as a specific offence, with the exception of Tasmania, 76 per cent of respondents said they were surprised the state lacked the legislation.

Unions NSW secretary Mark Morey urged MPs on all political sides to “listen to community concern”.

“When a worker doesn’t return home it is a life-altering trauma for their loved ones,” he said.

“The people of NSW want corporations and CEOs held accountable for workplace deaths.

“It is simply unacceptable that workers continue to lose their lives due to negligent and unsafe practices. Industrial manslaughter laws will deliver justice for victims and their families.”

Analysis from the organisation also reported that between 2013 to 2022, NSW has on average lost at least one worker in a workplace fatality every week – higher than any other Australian state of territory.

Following the death of Mr Cassaniti, Synergy Scaffolding Services pleaded guilty to one offence under the Work Health and Safety Act and was fined $2m in November 2022.

GN Residential Construction also pleaded guilty to an offence under the act, with NSW Fair Trading permanently disqualifying its contractor licence in June 2023. It was also convicted and fined $900,000 for the breach.

The company’s director Nicholas Kodomichalo was also hit with a 10-year disqualification from holding any authority under the Home Building Act 1989.