NSW Government to transform SafeWork NSW into standalone work, health and safety regulator.

Source: SafeWork NSW

The New South Wales Government will transform SafeWork into a standalone regulator following a 12-month inquiry by former judge The Hon. Robert McDougall KC.

The Government has released the independent report as it continues work to create a modern, strong and fit for purpose work health and safety regulator.

The Government has endorsed the report’s recommendations with further work underway to determine specific implementation details.

Many of the recommended reforms started after March last year, including reviewing SafeWork’s capabilities in triaging of incidents, improving the responsiveness of contact centre staff and pulling together SafeWork staff previously spread across the Department of Customer Service.

Other critical recommendations include:

  • Requiring SafeWork to keep those affected by workplace incidents, including families of deceased workers and those seriously injured at work, informed of progress of investigations and prosecutions,
  • Training more inspectors in dealing with psychosocial hazards in the workplace such as extreme workload and bullying,
  • Reviewing complaints handling policies,
  • Formalising data collection and analysis to make better compliance and enforcement decisions.

In opposition, Labor fought for the establishment of this inquiry to ensure that workers were protected, following a spate of scandals under Liberal-National Ministers such as an inadequate response to the emerging silica threat.

The Independent Review was informed by public consultation including submissions by former and current SafeWork staff, families of injured and deceased workers, unions and peak bodies, employer groups and SafeWork itself.

Detailed options are being developed on the possible design of the standalone regulator for the Government’s consideration.

Minister for Work Health and Safety Sophie Cotsis said:

“This Government commits to all NSW workers that it will never allow the health and safety regulator to be compromised so badly again.”

“Worker safety is not red tape, it is not a tick a box function, it is not a cost of doing business.”

“It is a fundamental right for every worker to go to their job and come home safely.”

“We are committing to ensuring for family members that SafeWork will create improved processes to ensure they are informed at all steps of an investigation.

“We are committing to SafeWork’s inspectors that they will get the support they need to do their vital work.”

“I thank the Hon. Robert McDougall KC and those who made submissions to the review for their work.”

SafeWork NSW’s Trent Curtin said:

“SafeWork NSW is entering a new era. Our dedicated and passionate staff want to make sure that everyone that goes to work can come home safely.”

“The recommendations set out by the Hon. Robert McDougall KC will assist SafeWork to become a strong and responsive work health and safety regulator for NSW.”

“With work already underway, SafeWork NSW will take all steps necessary to analyse our regulatory approaches and support systems to ensure best-practise work health and safety regulation for NSW workers.”

Prevention focus on deaths and injuries from construction falls

Source: WorkSafe Victoria.

Hundreds of construction workers suffered workplace harm last year after falling from height on the job.

This week WorkSafe will launch a statewide blitz to tackle fall risks such as unsafe or incomplete scaffolds, inappropriate ladder use, steps, stairs and voids or falling from or through roofs on building sites across Victoria.

Tragically, nine Victorian workers died in 2023 as a result of a fall from height, including four in the construction industry. The number of accepted claims from construction workers injured in falls from heights increased to 441 – up from 421 in 2022 and 404 the year before.

WorkSafe Executive Director Health and Safety Narelle Beer said inspectors would be out in force with an extra emphasis on ensuring employers are doing everything they can to prevent falls.

“As a leading cause of injury in the construction industry, falls from height is always a priority for our inspectors – but they will be making this a particular focus as they visit building sites over the coming weeks,” Dr Beer said.

“The safest way to prevent falls is to work on the ground. Where that’s not possible, employers should use the highest level of safety protection possible, such as complete scaffolding, guard railing and void covers.”

Construction continues to be the highest-risk industry for falls from heights, making up a third of the 1,352 total falls from height claims accepted last year.

Of the construction workers injured, 160 fell from ladders, 46 from steps and stairways, 31 from buildings or structures, 27 from scaffolding, and 13 from openings in floors, walls or ceilings.

Dr Beer said WorkSafe can and will take action against employers who fail to ensure the highest level of risk control measures are in place to protect workers from falls.

“A fall can happen in just seconds and it can turn your world upside down – so there’s no excuse for taking shortcuts when working at heights.”

The statewide blitz will be supported by falls prevention messaging across social media, newsletters and online, reminding employers and workers that falls can be fatal or cause life changing injuries.

To prevent falls from height employers should implement the highest possible measures from the five levels in the hierarchy of controls:

  • Level 1 Eliminate the risk by, where practicable, doing all or some of the work on the ground or from a solid construction.
  • Level 2 Use a passive fall prevention device such as scaffolds, perimeter screens, guardrails, safety mesh or elevating work platforms.
  • Level 3 Use a positioning system, such as a travel-restraint system, to ensure employees work within a safe area.
  • Level 4 Use a fall arrest system, such as a harness, catch platform or safety nets, to limit the risk of injuries in the event of a fall.
  • Level 5 Use a fixed or portable ladder, or implement administrative controls.

For more information visit worksafe.vic.gov.au/fall-prevention

Charges laid after fatal fall through shed roof

A Monbulk nursery and horticulture supply company has been charged after a worker suffered fatal head injuries when he fell 3.5 metres through a shed roof onto a concrete floor. The 66-year-old maintenance worker fell through polycarbonate roof sheeting, which he was in the process of replacing, in June 2022. Van Berkel Distributors Pty Ltd is facing three charges under section 21(1) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act for failing, as far as reasonably practicable, to provide and maintain a safe working environment.

The company also allegedly breached regulation 327(1) of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations by performing high risk construction work without a safe work method statement (SWMS). It is alleged that the company also breached section 21(2)(a) of the OHS Act by failing to provide and maintain a safe system of work; and regulation 44(4) of the OHS Regulations by failing to use a fall arrest system.

The matter will be addressed at a filing hearing on 28 February 2024.

Safe Work Australia release digital SWMS tool.

Source: Safe Work Australia

Complacency kills. When hazardous work is undertaken without a clear plan for how to do it safely, workers can be injured or killed.

Everyone who works in construction needs to know what a SWMS is for and how to use it. Our new interactive SWMS tool will help you do this.

Review here: Interactive SWMS Guidance Tool

This tool is for:

  • people responsible for preparing and using a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) for high risk construction work (HRCW)
  • a small business that has to prepare their own SWMS
  • people new to the construction industry.

This tool will help you understand:

  • what a SWMS does, how it makes a difference, and what the model work health and safety (WHS) laws say about preparing and using a SWMS
  • how to prepare a SWMS
  • how to use a SWMS in the workplace and keep it up to date.

It includes videos and activities to help explain how a SWMS works. You can work through the entire tool, or click on the module you are interested in below to go straight to the information you need.

SafeWork NSW Imposes $900K Fines Amid Height Fall Threats Crackdown

Source: SafeWork NSW

Almost $1 million in fines have been issued at the halfway point of SafeWork NSW’s 12-month blitz on falls from heights.

The ‘Working at Heights in Construction’ campaign followed a concerning rise in the number of serious injuries and deaths attributed to falls from heights, resulting in 17 people killed between 2018 and 2022.

Since May 2023, SafeWork Inspectors have visited 1,218 worksites resulting in 1,499 Improvement Notices, 727 Prohibition Notices and 352 Penalty Notices amounting to $972,000.

The blitz has seen Inspectors visit several commercial and residential sites across the state, as well as conducting high visibility checks in manufacturing and warehouse industries in addition to inspections in the transport industry leading up to a busy Christmas period.

During their field work, Inspectors gauged that 65 per cent of industry is using the highest form of safety measures as their first choice including the use of fall prevention devices, such as roof guardrails and scaffolding, rather than fall arrest systems such as harnesses.

SafeWork will continue to prioritise the safety of workers at heights in 2024 with continuing inspections, starting off with a blitz on the safe installation of rooftop solar panels this month.

Contractors and builders are obligated to protect workers by identifying height risks and taking steps to control these hazards as far as reasonably practical by implementing higher order controls.

Workers who have concerns about workplace health and safety can anonymously contact SafeWork on 13 10 50 or through the ‘Speak Up Save Lives’ app.

Head of SafeWork NSW Trent Curtin said:

“As we pass the halfway point of SafeWork’s ‘Working at Heights in Construction’ compliance blitz it is important to note that falls from heights is still the number one cause of traumatic fatalities on NSW construction sites.

“While it is encouraging that 65 per cent of industry is using the highest form of safety measures, this means that 35 per cent are not and this needs to change. Otherwise, businesses run the risk of workplace accidents as well as fines and prosecution.

“During one worksite blitz a SafeWork Inspector noted a worker who was not connected to a harness system while working on a roof. When questioned as to why they were not connected, the worker reasoned that they had been roofing for 30 years without an incident.

“Attitudes like this will eventually result in a workplace accident or death. This is simply unacceptable. SafeWork Inspectors will not hesitate to stop work on site, issue fines and consider prosecution against businesses and individuals disregarding the rules.”

Builder fined for failing to manage fall risk

Source: WorkSafe VIC

A Wattle Glen builder has been convicted and ordered to pay fines totalling $80,000 over a lack of fall protection, including for work at heights of more than 10 metres.

Prosam Building Services Pty Ltd was sentenced in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on Thursday, 8 February after being found guilty of four charges of failing to provide and maintain a safe working environment.

The company was fined $20,000 for each of three charges of failing to reduce the risk associated with a fall from height and a further $20,000 for performing high risk construction work without a safe work method statement (SWMS).

The company was also ordered to pay $6,211 in costs.

In June 2021, WorkSafe inspectors visited a St Kilda building site following reports that workers were on the second and third storey roofs without fall protection.

A worker was observed near the unguarded edge of the third storey roof, which was approximately 10.5 metres high, and accessing the roof via a scissor lift that required them to climb over the lift’s guardrails, with no measures in place to prevent falling while transitioning to or from the scissor lift.

Inspectors further observed workers accessing the third-storey addition via an internal extension ladder that extended through an opening, with no guardrail behind the opening and only a single top rail next to the opening despite the potential three-metre fall.

Workers were also found to be accessing the second storey north face of the building by climbing over a short terrace wall, with no edge protection provided to the second storey roof.

Prosam Building Services was unable to provide evidence that a SWMS had been prepared for the high risk construction work.

It was also reasonably practicable for the company to have reduced the risk by using a passive fall protection device, such as guardrails, on the second and third storey roofs and the void edges.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said there were absolutely no excuses for such a careless approach to safety when working at heights.

“The risks of falls from height are well-recognised, yet sadly they remain one of the biggest causes of fatalities and serious injuries among Victorian construction industry workers,” Dr Beer said.

“Prevention measures such as guard rails are simple and cost-effective and can save lives.”

To prevent falls from height employers should:

  • Eliminate the risk by, where practicable, doing all or some of the work on the ground or from a solid construction.
  • Use a passive fall prevention device such as scaffolds, perimeter screens, guardrails, safety mesh or elevating work platforms.
  • Use a positioning system, such as a travel-restraint system, to ensure employees work within a safe area.
  • Use a fall arrest system, such as a harness, catch platform or safety nets, to limit the risk of injuries in the event of a fall.
  • Use a fixed or portable ladder, or implement administrative controls.

Manage your duty of care as a contractor or service provider

Source: WAHA Member, Height Safety Engineers

Contractors and service providers occupy a unique place within the height safety ecosystem. They work in places that often need fall protection systems, while at the same time being responsible for those using those systems.

Workplace safety is not just the responsibility of a building owner, facility manager or the individual worker. Contractors and service providers, who generally employ workers to perform work at heights, also have a duty of care to their teams.

Their main role is to work with building owners and FMs to make sure that safety systems on-site are in place for workers to use. But also they need to ensure that workers have the correct skills, equipment and work methods to safely complete their job.

How this is done, when it comes to working at height, takes on a variety of different forms depending on the work being done and its location.

What is a duty of care?

Duty of care is the concept that one person is responsible for the safety and wellbeing of another. This could be at work, or in any number of other situations. A very simple way to think about it is to consider the relationship between a parent their child. The parent is responsible for making sure the child is fed, clothed, housed and education. They are responsible for their wellbeing. That’s duty of care.

In the workplace, duty of care is defined through legislation. Federally, the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and the Work Health and Safety Regulations 2011, outline where and how duty of care is created and enforced while at work. In NSW, these federal laws are supplemented by the state’s Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW) and the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2017 (NSW).

Under all this legislation, the responsibility for managing safety rests with the person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU). Both the NSW and federal regulations state:

“A person conducting a business or undertaking at a workplace must manage… the risks to health and safety associated with a fall by a person from one level to another that is reasonably likely to cause injury to the person or any other person.”

On a job site, especially a larger or more complex one, there can be several different PCBUs. Each of them will be responsible for different people and tasks.

Who can be a PCBU?

Depending on the job, and any particular person’s role within it, the person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) could be just about anyone. There can even be more than one PCBU. This is certainly the case when it comes to working at heights on buildings, especially ones under construction.

On a typical building site there would be a principal contractor, contractors, subcontractors and workers. Depending on the task being completed, everyone except the worker could be a PCBU under the law. And even the worker needs to take responsibility to ensure they are carrying our their tasks in a safe manner.

The principal contractor would be mostly responsible for providing a safe place of work. This could take the form of providing safe access and fall protection systems in areas where a worker was at risk of a fall. These would be things like a roof or the edge of a void. The principal contractor would be a PCBU over the entire site.

A contractor coming onto the site to complete a specific piece of work – installing a gutter, completing painting, doing the electrical work or putting together the HVAC system – would be a PCBU over that specific task and the people completing it.

It would be their responsibility for ensuring that the workers doing the actual work have safe work methods to follow, as well as having the correct equipment and are trained appropriately. They would also need to liaise with the principal contractor about site safety matters, like ensuring the site has the appropriate safety systems in place to allow workers to be protected while completing their tasks.

This would also apply to any sub-contractors engaged to work on the project as well.

Although an individual worker is not considered a PCBU under legislation, they are still responsible for their own safety. The onus is on an individual worker to ensure they are following safety system manuals and safe work methods correctly. They should also be using the correct PPE, if required, and generally be aware of what risks may exist on the site.

Most importantly, however, every person – from the principal contractor down to the individual worker – should be willing to listen to and enact changes to a work site to improve safety. The further removed an individual is from the work being completed, the easier it is to not consider what the real risks of injury may be. It is critical that any safety-related feedback given from those completing work on site be received and acted upon.

Role of contractors in the contractual chain

Contractors fulfil a key role in building, construction and maintenance work. They are the important links in the contractual chain between a building developer and the individual workers that complete tasks on site.

While a principal contractor is responsible for delivering a completed project, contractors and sub-contractors are engaged to perform specific tasks. Often these tasks are focussed around certain areas of work where a specific skillset is required.

For example, a Tier One contractor might be engaged to deliver the construction of a new hospital. Acting as the principal contractor, they would then engage a number of contractors and sub-contractors to deliver certain aspects of the project. A bulk earthworks company would complete the earthworks, a plumbing contractor would complete the pluming works for water supply and sewage removal, an electrical contractor would complete the electrical and data-cabling works.

Within those contractors, sub-contractors with even more specific skillsets may also be engaged. For example, the electrical contractor may engage a sub-contractor that specialises in working with high-voltage main electricity lines. They could also engage a sub-contractor to complete solar panel installation, and a third one to do backup generator installation and integration.

Ensuring workplaces are safe

While every level of the contractual chain – from principal contractors down to individual workers – has different responsibilities to making workplaces safe, there is one important thing they can do that makes the biggest difference: communication.

Having open and honest communication about safety issues, mitigation and risks is the single most useful thing a site can have. Everyone should be active in creating and maintaining clear channels of communication about safety issues at a workplace.

One aspect of communication that should also be taken onto account is the multi-cultural makeup of the workforce. It cannot be assumed that English is everyone’s first – or only – language, or that everyone has the same level of literacy. Being aware of the cultural and linguistic diversity that most likely exists at a workplace is vital to ensuring that safety messages are fully understood.

Developing safe work procedures

For contractors, ensuring that workers have a comprehensive set of safety system manuals and safe work procedures is part of their responsibilities as a PCBU at a workplace.

System operating manuals, site checklists and other documents related specifically to a worksite should come from the entity responsible for the system. This could be a building owner, facility manager or a principal contractor, depending on the type of site being accessed.

These documents should thoroughly detail what sort of safety systems have been installed, what correct usage of them is, what the limitations of the system are and what equipment is needed to safely use the system.

Having these documents, and making sure they have been reviewed and understood by the workers on site is just as critical contractors as it is for building owners. When it comes to responsibility for safety, this is one area where there can be overlap in the duties of care held by different parties. Those responsible for work sites need to check that workers understand how to use the safety systems correctly, while contractors and sub-contractors should be ensuring that safety systems on site meet the needs of their team so they can perform the work.

Contractors are responsible for providing their workers with safe work procedures and risk assessments to instruct them on how their work is to be performed in the safest manner practicable. These documents would include items like procedures for carrying materials, methods to complete work, assessing safety and risks during the work and more. Generally any safe work procedures should be read in conjunction when the site access manuals. This helps make sure that all safety bases are covered prior to work commencing.

In the event that issues are discovered prior to work commencing, or further information being needed, workers should be empowered by their employer to voice these concerns and know they will be acted on. It should be unacceptable for workers to be placed in a position where they have identified a safety risk but have to continue working in that area. Safety procedures and processes are only useful if workers have the ability to decline carrying out work in unsafe areas.

Training your team

On an individual level, each team member should be equipped with the skills and knowledge required to safely go about their daily work. For contractors and service providers, sending your team for accredited training, and then regular refresher courses, is a simple way of working towards fulfilling your duty of care.

For each team member, there are three effective levels of training that they should complete before starting work.

The first is a general safety induction. In Australia, this takes the form of the nationally-accredited CPCCWHS1001 Prepare to work safely in the construction industry course. This is often referred to colloquially as a white card. Holding your white card is often a compulsory requirement before a worker can enter a job site.

Secondly, there is task-specific training. This could be something along the lines of height safety training, for those working at heights, or confined space training, for those working in pits, tanks, trenches and other similar places. This training equips workers with a basic set of skills for identifying and mitigating common safety risks.

Finally, there is site-specific training, or a system induction. This type of training is related to the specific safety systems the workers will be using out on site. It is a guide to using the system and assist in making workers aware of how the system is to be used correctly, as well as seeing first-hand what limitations the system may have.

Working at Heights in Confined Spaces

People usually think of working at height as only being a risk when working above ground. But you don’t necessarily need to be up high for a fall to occur. Falls from the ground to a level below, even ones inside an existing structure are equally high risk, especially in areas which are not designed for human occupancy and maybe have ingress/egress limitations. As such, the definition of what is, or isn’t, a confined space is not so clear cut.

Confined space environments come in a variety of guises including vats, tanks, pits, pipes, chimneys, silos, sewers, shafts, wells, pressure vessels, trenches and tunnels.

The WHS Regulations define a confined space as an enclosed or partially enclosed space that:

  • Is not designed or intended primarily to be occupied by a person; and
  • Is, or is designed or intended to be at normal atmospheric pressure while any person in in the space; and
  • Is or is likely to be a risk to health and safety from:
  • An atmosphere that does not have a safe oxygen level; or
  • Contaminants, including airborne gases, vapours and dusts, that may cause injury from fire or explosion; or
  • Harmful concentrations of any airborne contaminants; or
  • Engulfment, but doesn’t not include a mine shaft of the workings of a mine.

A confined space is determined by the hazards associated with a set of specific circumstances and not just because work is performed in a small space.

Confined Spaces are responsible for multiple fatalities every year across a wide range of industries, from those involving complex plant to simple storage vessels. The risk is often underestimated with those killed not only including operators working in the confined space, but also those who try to rescue them who are often not trained or properly equipped to perform the rescue. Confined spaces, which are sometimes restricted in size, necessitate further consideration by those undertaking rope access or working at height operations, in particular the access, egress and rescue requirements specific to the space and location.

Some confined spaces are easily identified, like sewers, closed tanks used to store chemicals; however some are not so easy to identify. 

A confined space is not necessarily:

  1. Enclosed on all sides.
  2. Small and/or difficult to working in.
  3. Difficult to get in or out of. 
  4. A place where people do not work regularly. 

A place that is usually not considered to be a confined space may become one if there is a change in the conditions inside or a change in the degree of enclosure or confinement (which may occur intermittently).

Examples of a confined space. The following locations and places may be a ‘confined space’ where there is a presence of, or a reasonably foreseeable risk of, one of the specified risks to the health and safety of those working in the space:

  1. Ducts, culverts, tunnels, boreholes, manholes, shafts, excavations and trenches, sumps, cofferdams, etc.;
  2. Freight containers, ballast tanks, ships’ engine rooms and cargo holds;
  3. Buildings, building voids;
  4. Some enclosed rooms (particularly plant rooms) and compartments within them;
  5. Enclosures for the purpose of asbestos removal;
  6. Areas used for the storage of materials that are likely to oxidise, e.g. wood pellet  hopper tanks;
  7. Unventilated or inadequately ventilated rooms and silos;
  8. Structures that become confined spaces during fabrication or manufacture; and
  9. Interiors of machines, plant or vehicles.

Specified risk. This means a risk of:

  1. Serious injury to any person at work arising from a fire or explosion;
  2. The loss of consciousness of any person at work arising from an increase in body
  3. temperature;
  4. The loss of consciousness or asphyxiation of any person at work arising from gas, fume,
  5. vapour or the lack of oxygen;
  6. The drowning of any person at work arising from an increase in the level of liquid; or
  7. The asphyxiation of any person at work arising from a free flowing solid or the inability to reach a respirable environment due to entrapment by a free flowing solid.

A confined space is determined by the hazards associated with a set of specific circumstances and not just because work is performed in a small space.

Entry into a confined space means a person’s head or upper body is in the confined space or within the boundary of the confined space.

Working in a confined space is a high risk activity and the potential for incidents resulting in fatalities are compounded by the nature of the hazards present. Examples of the key risks include the potential lack of oxygen, high temperatures, explosive environments and the risk of airborne contaminants including gas, fumes and vapours. Other hazards include the risk of engulfment in flood waters, sewerage, grain, smoke or dirt from a trench collapse.

So what can you do?

There are a number of key duties:

  1. Avoid entry to confined spaces, e.g. by doing the work from the outside;
  2. If entry to a confined space is unavoidable, follow a safe system of work; and
  3. Put in place adequate emergency arrangements before the work starts.

You should identify the hazards. Examples include:

  1. Flammable substance and oxygen enrichment;
  2. Excessive heat;
  3. Toxic gas, fume or vapour;
  4. Oxygen deficiency;
  5. The ingress or presence of liquids
  6. Solid materials which can flow;
  7. Other hazards not specific to confined spaces, e.g. electricity, noise, collapse or subsidence of or within the space, loss of structural integrity, etc.

How can you do it?

You should assess factors that affect the work:

The precautions required in a safe system of work will depend upon the nature of the confined space and the results of a risk assessment. The main elements to consider when designing a safe system of work, and from which may form the basis of a ’permit-to-work’, are:

  1. Supervision;
  2. Competence for confined space working;
  3. Communications;
  4. Testing/monitoring the atmosphere;
  5. Gas purging;
  6. Ventilation;
  7. Removal of residues;
  8. Isolation from gases, liquids and other flowing materials;
  9. Isolation from mechanical and electrical equipment;
  10. Selection and use of suitable equipment;
  11. Personal protective equipment (PPE) and respiratory protective equipment (RPE);
  12. Portable gas cylinders and internal combustion engines;
  13. Gas supplied by pipes and hoses;
  14. Access and egress;
  15. Fire prevention;
  16. Lighting;
  17. Static electricity;
  18. Smoking;
  19. Emergencies and rescue; 
  20. Limited working time.


Safe Work Australia Model Code of Practice: Confined Spaces

IRATA International Topic Sheet No. 20