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Enough is enough: Regulators call time on slack contractors

Falls from height continue to dominate the news with a plumbing business in NSW being the latest to receive a significant fine after a worker fatally fell more than eight metres through a warehouse roof.

On 31 January 2016, a 61-year-old employee of Opcon Plumbing Pty Ltd was replacing asbestos roof sheeting and installing new roof safety mesh and insulation at a warehouse.

By Michael Selinger

Falls from height continue to dominate the news with a plumbing business in NSW being the latest to receive a significant fine after a worker fatally fell more than eight metres through a warehouse roof.

On 31 January 2016, a 61-year-old employee of Opcon Plumbing Pty Ltd was replacing asbestos roof sheeting and installing new roof safety mesh and insulation at a warehouse.

A sheet of asbestos roofing broke, causing him to fall 8.7 metres through the roof onto a concrete floor. The man, who had 42 years’ experience as a plumber, suffered fatal injuries and died.

The Court heard that Opcon Plumbing could have prevented the man from walking on the asbestos roof sheets, as well as ensuring that the worker was using an individual fall restraint system.

The company was fined $75,000.

Action by regulator

In NSW, and other jurisdictions, the spike in the number of fall related incidents has prompted action.

A 12-month construction industry blitz has been ongoing in NSW, aimed at reducing falls from heights.

Inspectors have so far visited 1,000 sites around NSW. SafeWork NSW announced that its inspectors have issued 1,258 notices to stop or improve work processes throughout the visits, which included 93 on-the-spot fines when the falls risk to workers was imminent or serious, or involved a repeat offender.

Other jurisdictions are similarly focused on the issues and are regularly taking action to enforce safe work practices.

But it is not only penalties being imposed. Financial assistance is also being offered to improve safety.

For example, in NSW more than $86,000 of rebates to 186 small businesses has been provided to address safety by encouraging the use of scaffolds, formwork, ladders and safety planning documents.

Lessons for employers

All businesses, whether in the construction industry or not, need to be conscious of the serious risks from working from heights.

There are simple and well-known controls that can be put in place to manage these risks, including those set out in Codes of Practice published by Safe Work Australia.

It is important that all employers familiarise themselves with those controls and ensure that they are implemented.

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