SafeWork NSW Building and Construction Symposium 

The NSW Government’s inaugural Safe Work NSW Building and Construction Symposium was originally scheduled to be a two day event, in Sydney. The WAHA were initially engaged for the Symposium to present on the topic of fall prevention as well as be on the primary panel for a falls from heights workshop. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic the event was rescheduled twice before being downsized to a primary event in Sydney, with Regional Roadshow events held at Coffs Harbour, Tamworth, Newcastle, Wollongong, Batemans Bay, Wagga Wagga, Orange, and Port Macquarie. 

The Symposium finally came together in 2022, and was held at CommBank Stadium Parramatta on the 10th May 2022. The Symposium brought together the Regulator and the building and construction industry to launch the Scaffolding Industry Safety Standard (SISS) as well as conduct workshops to address the ongoing issues around working at heights in NSW. 

Scott Barber, Deborah Chick and Ashley Campbell attended the event as SMEs to participate in the break out sessions across three sub-industry areas; residential/house construction (stream 1), multi-storey mixed use (stream 2), and infrastructure (stream 3) provided a forum to address their specific issues, improve safety standards and work with Safe Work NSW. 

Participants at the Sydney event agreed that it was a valuable opportunity to engage and consult on WHS issues and attendance resulted in a better understanding of the regulatory landscape. They also found the Scaffolding Industry Safety Standard (SIIS) session valuable as it gave them a better understanding of how to safely manage scaffolding work; and commented that the workshops being split across three sub-industry areas; residential/house construction (class 1), multi- storey mixed use (class 2), and infrastructure provided a forum to address their specific issues, improve safety standards and work with SafeWork NSW. The most popular part of the symposium was the keynote speakers, followed by the networking opportunities, the delivery of the SISS and the falls from heights workshops.

You can read the full report of the SafeWork NSW Building and Construction Safety Symposium Evaluation online here.

Regarding the falls from heights workshops, each stream brainstormed ideas for potential regulatory options to solve this “wicked problem” – the most common cause of traumatic fatalities on NSW construction sites, with this statistic echoed throughout the whole of Australia where an average 12.2% of all workplace fatalities for the last five years running occur from a fall from height. A significant number of suggestions were recorded across all workshops in the afternoon, including: 

Regulatory change: increased penalties, demerit point system, specific Safe Work NSW led Working at Heights Forum, permit and licencing systems introduced; 

Communication: building greater awareness and risks including guidance material, changing messaging regarding accountability and duties of leaders; 

Training: specific training for Working at Heights specific to sub-sector and skills, White Card changes/inclusion of work at height, greater oversight of Registered Training Organisation (RTO) providers; and, 

Licensing: High Risk Work Licence (HRWL) e.g., <4m and >4m, sub-competencies as per trade (formwork, scaffold), validity period. 

A separate regulatory options paper will be prepared by Safe Work NSW for further consultation. 

Overall, the Symposium was a successful way to engage with the building and construction industry, with it recommended to be delivered every two years with smaller stream specific forums in between, to engage with industry and discuss solutions for priority issues, addressing specific harms in the targeted locations and sub-sectors across the state. 

SafeWork NSW will be meeting in February 2023 to further discuss the opportunity and logistics of bringing a working at height qualification over into the High Risk Work License, and the WAHA will be involved in this meeting. We look forward to following this project closely.

$2m fine reinforces SafeWork NSW Scaff Safe Message

Source: SafeWork NSW & Lets Talk About Safety

A Sydney scaffolding company has been fined $2 million by the NSW District Court, the highest penalty ever recorded for a SafeWork NSW offence.

Head of SafeWork NSW Natasha Mann said the fine serves as a reminder to construction businesses throughout NSW about the importance of work site safety as no amount of money will ever compensate for a life lost.

“On 1 April 2019, a steel modular scaffold collapsed at a construction site in Macquarie Park Sydney, crushing two workers. Tragically an 18-year-old worker was killed, and another suffered life-changing injuries,” Ms Mann said.

“Synergy Scaffolding Services Pty Ltd plead guilty to a Category 1 offence* under section 31/19(2) of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 in the NSW District Court.

“As part of the plea, Synergy accepted there was no vertical bracing for the scaffolding where there should have been, as per Australian Standards.

“Synergy also failed to advise the principal contractor that the loads placed on the scaffold exceeded the amount of weight the scaffold could safely hold, with the scaffold overloaded at the time of the incident.

“In sentencing, the judge noted the collapse of the scaffold was caused by a culmination of events and the case should serve as a telling reminder that unsafe acts on a building site can and do lead to catastrophic consequences.”

Ms Mann said Operation Scaff Safe 2022 is currently underway.

“It is a six-month campaign with Inspectors out in-force across NSW checking scaffolding installations on construction sites. In particular, they will be looking to see that installations are applying the new Scaffold Industry Safety Standard (PDF, 11195.23 KB) which was published in March of this year.

“Scaffolding requires constant attention and coordination. The Industry Standard sets out practical guidance that can be used by principal contractors and scaffolders to effectively manage safety risks through all phases of a construction project.

“Inspectors can issue on-the-spot fines for non-compliance. Individuals may be fined up to $720 and businesses up to $3,600,” she said.

In the past two years SafeWork NSW have implemented several programs to improve safety for workers in the construction industry including:

  • The establishment of a Family and Injured Worker Support Group to provide advice and feedback to SafeWork NSW for families and injured workers impacted by a workplace tragedy.
  • The development of a Young Worker eToolkit, for employees and workers, containing tips and training materials about work safety rights and responsibilities.
  • The Speak Up Save Lives app which allows people to anonymously report unsafe work practices directly to SafeWork NSW.
  • Annual SafeWork NSW Building and Construction Symposium events that brings builders, industry, and government together to improve safety for workers.

Find scaffolding safety resources and further information at SafeWork NSW.

Synergy Scaffolding Services has the right to appeal the penalty.

* Category 1 is the most serious category of offence provided for in the Work Health and Safety Act. The offence is committed when a person with a health and safety duty engages in conduct that exposes an individual to a risk of death or serious injury, without a reasonable excuse and is reckless as to that risk.

In addition to the work undertaken by SafeWork NSW in the last two years, the family of the 18-year-old worker who tragically lost his life, have actively been working within the industry to Stop; Speak Up and Save Lives.

Christopher Cassaniti had only just celebrated  his 18th Birthday with family and friends on the Saturday. He had just purchased his first car and picked it up on the Friday before. He was a young man with dreams and goals that were never fulfilled. His death shook the family and the industry to its core and left a legacy behind, so since his death, his mother Patrizia Cassaniti has turned her anger to something positive and has been advocating safety in his honour with a mission to make sure that no Australian worker should ever go to work and die. She has been making her presence known at major industry events and with media outlets, sharing her story about ‘WHAT TRAGEDY LOOKS LIKE’ and what happens when complacency overrides what we know is Safe to do in the first place and disaster hits.

Patrizia Cassaniti attended the SafeWork NSW – Building and Construction Safety Symposium earlier this year, during which the aforementioned SafeWork Scaffolding Industry Safety Standard was released.

The scaffold was a wedge-lock type birdcage scaffold, originally used as a bridge between a personnel and materials hoist and the building under construction. At the time of collapse the hoist had been removed and the scaffold was being used to store material and to complete the remaining façade work on the exterior of the building.

The subsequent investigation by SafeWork NSW identified issues with the planning, design, management and modification of the scaffold, as well as a lack of clarity regarding its duty rating. It also identified a need for clear written guidance regarding:

  • Management of contractors
  • Management of scaffolding work
  • Management of erected scaffolds, particularly on-going modification
  • Training and qualification of workers
  • Role of engineers, sign-offs and verifications

The prosecution resulted in a WHS Project Order made under Section 238 of the NSW Work Health and Safety Act 2011, to develop a Scaffolding Industry Safety Standard to provide this guidance: which you can view online here.