By Michael Selinger
Falls from heights continues to be one of the most active areas for prosecutions across Australia. It is critical that organisations consider where their workers may face this risk, as well as ensuring controls are implemented to eliminate the potential harm.
In Victoria, in the last few months alone, the following falls from height matters have come before the courts:
- On 1 July 2019, a builder, Mr Hussein Al Mosawi was fined $5,000 when a worker fell 2.8 metres from an unprotected edge leading when undertaking plastering work on a balcony. The injured worker was not directly engaged by the builder, but rather was a subcontractor to the original contractor, Ser Brothers.
Even though the original contractor was not instructed to do work from the balcony, Mr Hussein Al Moswai was found to be in breach of the safety legislation as he had failed to provide a site specific induction to the workers and also failed to prepare a health and safety coordination plan. Ser Brothers was also fined $8,000 for the same offence.
- On 11 June 2019, plumbing company KC & TL Murray Pty Ltd was fined $7,500 plus costs for failing to ensure that its workers wore safety harnesses and that adequate edge protection was put in place on the roof when replacing a gas hot water system on a 3 storey building. Even though there was no actual injury sustained by the worker, footage of the work had been taken and was used as evidence to charge the company.
- On 7 March 2019, another plumbing company, Sean Allan Plumbing Pty Ltd, was fined $50,000 in relation to an incident where a 16-year-old worker at the site was clearing debris from the roof when he fell through a skylight at least 5 metres, suffering significant injuries. The company, in removing and replacing the roof also had to remove and replace two skylights.
However, there was no Safe Work Method Statement provided for high risk construction work and so there was not any appropriate fall protection installed, such as anchor points and a work positioning system. There was also no information, instruction or training given by the company to the worker regarding working from such height. The company had already received two compliance notices on another site in 2011, including one notice specifically regarding a falling from height issue.
- On 6 March 2019, Nomad Scaffolding Pty Ltd was fined $16,000 plus costs as a result of scaffolding that was inadequately constructed leading to a worker being seriously injured after falling from height and being impaled on an uncapped upright.
- On 28 February 2019, building company Daxion Constructions Pty Ltd was fined $25,000 following an incident when a carpenter finishing the flooring on the second storey of a house fell through an unguarded staircase void onto a concrete slab. He suffered a spinal cord injury and became paralysed from the chest down. The builder failed to cover the void or install a temporary barrier.
Falls from heights are an obvious and foreseeable risk of harm, particularly in the construction industry. But the risk can occur in nearly all industries.
Nonetheless, clear and simple controls are often available and can be easily implemented and each business should be able to demonstrate that they have assessed the potential for this risk to affect their workers’ safety, or others involved in their undertaking, as well as demonstrate the steps that have been put in place to manage the risk.