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.

10 steps to ladder safety

Each year there are dozens of serious incidents where workers have fallen from ladders. While workers in construction, retail and building maintenance are most commonly injured, any worker using a ladder – at any height – is at risk.

So what can you do to avoid becoming a statistic?

The first thing to consider is whether you really need to use a ladder for the job. Ladders should only be used for simple access jobs or for a short duration. If you can work from ground level or using an alternative like scaffolding; do it.

But if a ladder is your only option, here are the 10 golden rules that can help you avoid injury.

  1. Choose the right ladder for the job. It should meet Australian standards and the load requirements of the job.
  2. Inspect the ladder for damage before each use.
  3. Only use a ladder if you are physically-capable of doing so.
  4. Always set up the ladder on a flat, stable surface. Consider safety devices like leg levellers, anti-slip gutter guards and stabilisers.
  5. Always maintain three point of contact with the ladder. This means two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand on the ladder. Never lean or reach away from the ladder while using it.
  6. Only take small items up or down a ladder and items that allow you to maintain three points of contact.
  7. Never exceed the working load limit on the ladder. Remember to include the weight of your tools.
  8. If you’re using an extension ladder, secure it at the top, bottom or both. If this isn’t possible then have someone hold the ladder. If you’re using an A-frame ladder, make sure it’s fully open and locked.
  9. Extension ladders should be angled at a ratio of 1:4. That is, position the base of the ladder 1 metre away from the structure for every 4 metres of height.
  10. Do not climb past the second-top rung of a ladder, and never straddle the top of an A-frame ladder. When climbing down, face the ladder and climb to the bottom rung before stepping off.

We’ve developed a short video to illustrate these steps – watch below and check out our YouTube channel for more how-to videos.

Smooth office operators make for better business

Maximising productivity in your office is always easier if your workers are happy and content.

While office employees are much less vulnerable to serious injury than workers in industries such as construction, there are still risks and other factors that can impact their health and safety – and your bottom line.

In an office environment, risks might be someone tripping and falling headfirst into a sharp or blunt object, or electrocution when using a malfunctioning device. But more likely, adverse health effects stem from poor manual handling activity, incorrect workstation set-up, or lack of rest and exercise breaks from computer activity.

If unchecked, these problems can affect productivity, morale and sick leave rates, leading to the need to hire temps or pay overtime.

Clearly it is in the best interest of your business that you run a tight ship when it comes to work health and safety, so where should you start?

Here are some top tips for office workplace safety:

  • Spend some time walking around your workplace, ideally with your work health and safety representative, looking for potential hazards.
  • Hold a meeting with your staff and ask them to flag any issues or concerns, as one of the best ways to identify workplace safety issues is by asking your workers.
  • Examine injury records for repeat incidents, ask staff about possible issues and watch worker activity to see if you can identify any potential problems. You should end up with a list of risks to tackle.
  • Critical to long-term worker health and comfort is proper workstation set-up, especially if duties are mainly desk-bound. Failure to get this right can gradually lead to neck, back and shoulder pain and, in extreme cases, a repetitive strain injury resulting in lengthy sick leave. Ensure your workers know how to set up their desk properly and take regular rest and exercise breaks.
  • One of your top priorities should be addressing injuries caused by manual handling, or hazardous manual tasks. These may be caused by carrying, stacking, lifting, rolling, sliding, pushing or lowering loads as a result of awkward postures, forceful exertions, repetition, duration and vibration. The best way you can help workers is by changing the way they perform tasks by using mechanical aids such as height adjustable trolleys and changing the duration and repetition of tasks.
  • Another priority is to eliminate the risk of workers slipping or tripping by reducing hazards from uneven or worn floor surfaces, spillages, poorly-lit walkways and clutter.
  • Zeroing in on the risk of falls may just require investing in a sturdy mobile step ladder that meets Australian Standards for commercial or industrial use; look for the label on the item when purchasing equipment. A major cause of office falls is workers trying to reach things by standing on chairs or other unsafe objects. Ladder misuse is another clanger, so make sure any ladders are in good condition, get used properly and are regularly checked for wear and tear. Always have three points of contact with the ladder and if possible, anchor the ladder or get someone to hold it.

Click here for more tips and advice on office workplace health and safety, or call us on 13 10 50.