Falls from heights remain the biggest killer on construction sites in NSW. And a worker doesn’t have to be perched on top of a 12-storey building to be at risk of death or serious injury as a fall from just two metres or less can also prove fatal.
Over the past three years, most serious falls were from two to four metres – or about a single storey.
In November last year, in response to alarming statistics regarding falls from heights, we introduced new on-the-spot fines – where employers can be fined up to $3600 for failing to control the risk of falls adequately – and launched a 12-month blitz on NSW construction sites.
Astonishingly, our inspections revealed more than 50 per cent of sites had unsafe scaffolding, more than 40 per cent didn’t have proper edge protection, and nearly 25 per cent didn’t provide a site safety induction to their workers.
Recently, a 20-year-old apprentice plumber died after suffering a broken neck and fractured skull when he fell six metres through a hole in a roof and landed on a steel beam. ‘In a spilt second your whole life changes forever,’ said his devastated aunt.
In another incident, a 67-year-old man sustained a traumatic brain injury, a fractured skull, collarbone and neck, and a punctured lung when he fell through an unprotected stairwell void on a Sydney construction site. He was in hospital for two months.
While working at heights is clearly a risky business, there are plenty of ways you can help avoid workplace tragedies and ensure your workers go home in one piece at the end of the day.
As with any high-risk activity, the best solution is to eliminate the need to work at heights where possible. If you can’t, you must provide a stable and securely guarded work platform or a suitable alternative.
Some typical examples are scaffolding, perimeter screens, guarding, fencing or other barriers capable of withstanding the loads that may be placed on it. Harness systems, such as fall restraint or fall arrest devices, should only be used as a last resort.
This month and throughout 2018, our blitz on construction sites will continue. So, ensure you protect your workers – or risk a fine!
For more information on managing the risks of falls, visit our website.