Manage the risks of falls – or risk a fine.

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.

It’s not always a long way down

You don’t have to be on top of a 12-storey building to be at risk of death or serious injury. A fall from just two metres – or even into a hole, trench or off the back of a truck – can prove fatal.

Early this year, a bricklayer died when he fell five metres through a void at a construction site. A piece of plywood had been thrown across the void and left unsecured, leaving an ad-hoc, unplanned and totally inadequate safety system.

The principal contractor was fined $425,000 and its director $85,500.

In another incident a worker fell through a trapdoor at a bottle shop and broke both of her legs. The publican was fined $150,000 for not having safe systems of work, something as simple as a barrier or alternative access to the cellar.

On top of potential legal action if you’re found to be at fault, a workplace injury opens a can of worms – downtime, poor morale, replacement worker hire and more headaches you don’t need.

Over the past three years, 19 people have died after falling from a height in NSW workplaces. More than 13,000 were injured and about 200 were permanently disabled.

But don’t panic, there are plenty of ways you can help avoid mishaps and ensure your workers go home in one piece.

Here are three steps to remember:

  1. If the work can be performed from ground level, do so. Wherever possible prefabricate roofs at ground level, reduce shelving heights, pre-sling loads so you don’t have to get on the tray to load or unload trucks, and design windows so they can be cleaned safely from the ground.
  2. If it’s not possible to work on the ground, use a fall-prevention device such as an elevated work platform, guard rail or scaffolding.
  3. A fall-arrest system is the next best option but it must include a lanyard, harness and anchor. Check the buckle, webbing and D-rings before using it. And, make sure you’re hooked up and not just wearing a harness – yes, it happens.

It’s really simple to stay safe, so check out our simple safety page on falls – and discover how easy it is to comply with your legal obligations.