Canberra property developer Nikias Diamond Pty Ltd has been convicted and fined $180,000 after a school student fell from a ladder into an open void and broke his neck on a worksite in 2016.
After the sentence was handed down on Monday, ACT Work Safety Commissioner Greg Jones expressed disappointment the penalty was not higher.
He said that given the maximum fine of $1.5 million and the circumstances of the case, an appropriate deterrent would be double that figure.
He pointed to the types of fines issued in NSW for similar cases, the clearly preventable nature of the injury and the serious and life-changing extent of the harm suffered by the young worker.
"It's really important for courts to send a deterrent message to all employers to take work, health and safety seriously," Mr Jones said.
"A strong deterrent message would have been appropriate in this case and I don't think this decision has achieved that today."
CFMEU ACT secretary Jason O'Mara said it seemed to be an "inadequately small" penalty.
"You've got a 16-year-old kid who on his first couple days as a work experience student [is injured and] whose life's going to change.
"It's chicken feed, they turned over 22 million last year," he said of Nikias Diamond.
He said the fine did not send a message of deterrence to what were multi-million dollar companies.
Outside court, the company's directors, including the building site's construction manager Dimitri Stramarcos, declined to comment.
The company later published a press release saying it accepted the conviction.
"Nikias Diamond acknowledges its role in the health and safety of all workers on its sites and maintains excellent systems to protect them.
"We sincerely regret this incident and will continue to strive to ensure the safety of everyone on site."
The 16-year-old student stepped from a ladder and fell six metres through an uncovered void and onto concrete in the accident at an Amaroo block of units on October 27, 2016.
He was part of the ACT Master Builders Association Kids Assist program placing school students on building sites, and was working with subcontractor BCC Building, which was in turn contracted by Feel Style Pty Ltd.
Nikias Diamond, as the principal contractor, was charged over the breach relating to open voids and pleaded guilty in the ACT Industrial Court last month to failing to comply with its health and safety duty and exposing a person to a risk of death or serious injury.
Acting Chief Magistrate Glenn Theakston said in handing down the sentence that the student "has undergone much treatment, suffers significant and ongoing pain ... can no longer pursue a career in carpentry and has become isolated from his friends."
Nikias Diamond is a family owned company established in 2004. In the financial year ending June 2018, it returned a net profit of about $565,000 and a turnover in excess of $22 million, the court heard.
Since the accident, it had demonstrated an acceptance of responsibility and taken tangible steps to improve its already extensive work, health and safety systems, Mr Theakston said.
"It is clear from the evidence that the defendant is otherwise of good character, had planned to conduct the site safely, and that the contravention in this case arose due to the failure for a relatively short period to enforce its existing requirements."
He said there were a number of concerning features about the case by several parties, including the placement of school students on complex building sites, the lack of communication about the students presence on the site and the absence of any special arrangements for the students, Feel Style's failure to cover the voids as agreed with Nikias Diamond, BCC Building's failure to appreciate the significance of voids and Nikias Diamond's failure to to monitor and ensure such voids were covered.
"This is clearly a case where a number of professionals let the students down by failing to prevent them from being exposed to the very serious risk presented by the uncovered voids," the magistrate said.
But he said the court proceedings were not an inquiry into what went wrong that day but about sentencing the developer for the breach.
He convicted and fined the company $180,000.
It was given 18 months to pay.
The subcontractors Feel Style and BCC Building both entered into an enforceable undertaking with WorkSafe ACT worth $132,000 each after the 2016 accident, WorkSafe ACT said.
WorkSafe ACT is seeking advice on an appeal.