COVID-19 Management Liability

COVID-19’s implications for your management liability

The pandemic raises an extra layer of unpredictability for directors and officers of companies, so this article is a handy checklist about what you need to monitor.

Your business is undoubtedly familiar with the nuts and bolts of your disaster recovery plan due to the current pandemic. It’s a much-changed landscape for risk. So how can you use your insights to better plan for the implications of possible management liabilities in the current climate?

To read more, visit the article by the WAHA Strategic Partner; AB Phillips.

At height risks in construction: a more holistic approach

This Article was written by the WAHA CEO, Scott Barber, for Safety Solutions.

When it comes to deaths and serious injuries resulting from falls from height, construction workers top the list. Despite a focus from regulators, a more holistic approach is needed to improve worker engagement and manage risks through fall protection measures, training and environment-specific solutions.

According to Safe Work Australia data, the workers most at risk of death and serious injury as a result of falls from height are those in the construction industry. The most recent published statistics indicate that there have been 122 fatalities attributed to falls from heights over the past five years, accounting for 13% of all worker fatalities over that period. The figures also indicate that even though serious workers compensation claims resulting from falls from heights declined by 17% between 2009–10 and 2018–19, falls from heights still accounted for 6% of serious claims. If we reference the latest data, the 2019 statistics, they indicate that of the 183 fatalities over that 12-month period, 11% are credited to falls from height and another 11% attributed to falling objects. That’s a total of 42 deaths with an aligned mechanism of injury.

These findings paint a clear picture; despite the focus from regulators and the ever-present risk of working at height, it appears that there is still a lack of engagement with best practice around the management of the key risks despite the devastating effects on workers’ wellbeing and safety. What is also clear is that there is a decisive link between the nature of the environment where these incidents occur and the resultant statistic whereby 22% of the worker fatalities in the construction sector occur from what can be described as ‘at-height’ incidents.

The dangers

The outcomes of falls in the workplace are more likely to be life-threatening when compared to many other incident types. While other common mechanisms of injury, such as manual handling, overexertion, and vehicle or machine accidents are more likely to cause injury to a particular body part, the injuries resultant from falls can easily have wider-spread complications that can affect the whole body, cause significant damage to vital organs and, if not directly resulting in death, have life-altering, long-term consequences.

In other words, working at height may not be the most common incident type, but when incidents do occur, they are much more likely to be fatal compared with other occupational hazards. With such potential consequences, there is a need to address work at height as a broader risk profile. Increasing awareness around the potential for harm and the methods for avoiding these hazards will create more effective engagement and eventually lead to a reduction in events. Knowledge is power, so underestimating and devaluing the high-risk nature of the work environment, and consequently, the level of competency required to operate safely in these spaces, leads directly to a higher incident rate. Ensuring those working at height are educated sufficiently to assess risk appropriately and manage it accordingly is the key to the reduction in these statistics.

Using safety protection correctly

Effective fall protection depends on an informed choice of equipment, the knowledge of how to use it correctly and how to safeguard oneself and others from potential hazards. Workplace safety is, therefore, a two-step process that involves technical support from safety systems and personal protective equipment (PPE) that can shield and protect in dangerous situations and secondly, human support in the shape of comprehensive training, instructions in the form of safe work method statements and expert guidance and advice. Neglecting either of the two will potentially lead to deficiencies in safety systems, resulting in breaches of procedure and a more exposed worksite.

Only professional, competent health and safety specialists can advise on how to design effective solutions and increase compliance while accounting for site-based and case-specific conditions. Safety equipment has become vastly more effective and affordable in recent years, making it easier to choose the right solution for specific tasks. This is a shift from specifying a one-size-fits-all solution and the assumption it will provide protection regardless of task specifics. Utilising a combination of fall arrest systems, edge protection and safety equipment, including PPE and tool lanyards, will lead to a reduction in incidents if used correctly.

Applying the hierarchy of controls informs and frames the most suitable approach to solutions modelling, so engaging with a subject matter expert will help identify the most suitable path forward. But ultimately, correct use is the key; even the newest and most expensive equipment cannot be effective if the worker does not know how to use it properly. While there are many guides on equipment selection, these guides are based on a hypothetical application and assumptions around work environment and do not provide the unique risk-profile and informed criteria that can only be determined by truly competent subject matter experts, be they internal or external consultants. Combined with practical training, not just theory-based working at height courses, operators at height can apply the tools and techniques more efficiently, empowering individuals to make safer choices without needing to compromise due to poor equipment selection.

Therefore, safety training should be a top priority for any company, regardless of the size or the industry. Safety training, performed by professional subject matter experts at regular intervals, will educate crews on how to use the equipment, how to spot a potential hazard, and maintain skillsets and a safety culture in the workplace that will inspire more awareness and interest in working safer. Applying application specifics into training packages allows for the inclusion of the safe use of tools and tool lanyards in height-based work environments. Including these processes into a formal work method helps mitigate the risk of dropped objects highlighted in the statistics.

The future of fall protection

At a state and territory level, SafeWork and WorkSafe are running fall prevention campaigns as part of an initiative to decrease the number of victims of falls from height. This includes the highlighting of dropped objects as a significant contributor to injury and fatality statistics. In the end, however, even with the active campaigning from regulators, the responsibility for creating awareness among a workforce and instituting change when it comes to safety culture and processes lies with the employer. But by empowering those who work at height with the suitable knowledge and skill sets to appreciate the true nature of the risk, an effective multilateral approach can be applied.

The future of safe working at heights will be decided in close cooperation and collaboration with those directly affected by it, the employees. Ensuring appropriate training is provided as a key component of all at height tasks and not relying on ‘tick-the-box’ approaches to safety training ensures operators are prepared and able to continually assess hazards throughout the task, with situational awareness being supported by actual competencies. Companies that look at safety as a task that can be handled on the executive level are taking the wrong approach. An understanding of safety culture will only reach the worker if they are engaged, skilled and involved in the discussion, and only then can all work together to reduce fatalities.

Work-related fatalities in 2020

Safe Work Australia has published the Work-related Traumatic Injury Fatalities Australia 2020 report, which provides the latest detailed national statistics on all workers and bystanders fatally injured at work. 

While the rate of work-related fatalities has decreased 25% over the last decade and 50% since 2007, any workplace death is unacceptable.

Tragically, 194 people were fatally injured at work in 2020.

Understanding the causes of injury and the industries most affected can help reduce work-related fatalities.

The report details that 68% of worker fatalities occurred in the following industries:

  • Transport, postal and warehousing (49 fatalities)
  • Agriculture, forestry and fishing (46 fatalities)
  • Construction (36 fatalities)

The most common causes of worker fatalities were:

  • Vehicle collisions (41%)
  • Being hit by moving objects (13%)
  • Falls from a height (11%)

This report complements and provides additional detail to the Key Work Health and Safety Statistics published on 25 October.

These statistics should be considered in the broader context of the COVID-19 pandemic when comparing data over previous periods. The potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on this data are explored in the COVID-19 and Safe Work Australia data report.

Source: SafeWork Australia

WAHA Release New Industry Code

The Working at Height Association is pleased to announce that a new Industry Code has been released!

The Industry Code for Fixed Platforms, Walkways, Stairways and Ladders for Working at Height has been compiled with input from Regulators, Manufacturers, Industry Associations and people with technical knowledge in the subject.  

This Industry Code is intended to provide further guidance and is for use by installation companies, inspection entities, end users, facility managers and building owners on the recommended best practice methodologies to ensure safe access to a system, system design, installation and inspection of fixed platforms, walkways, guardrails, mesh screens, stairways and ladders.

It is also the outcome of a period of significant public and industry consultation and input, we therefore commend its use by all entities with an interest or need in managing these safety systems.

Using data to make workplaces safer

Understanding the causes of injury and the industries most affected can help reduce work-related fatalities, injuries and disease. Work-related fatalities, injuries and illnesses have a devastating impact on workers, their families and the community.

Each year, Safe Work Australia produces national work health and safety statistics, providing important evidence on the state of work health and safety in Australia.

Our latest publication provides an overview of national work-related fatality data for 2020 and workers’ compensation claims data for 2019-20. 

Work-related fatalities 2020

Tragically, 194 people were fatally injured at work in 2020.

Key findings include: 

  • The fatality rate of Australian workers has decreased by 50% since 2007.
  • 96% of worker fatalities in 2020 were male.
  • Vehicle collisions accounted for 41% of all 2020 worker fatalities.  
  • Machinery operators and drivers had the highest number of fatalities by occupation (67 fatalities) in 2020.
  • The agriculture, forestry and fishing industry had the highest worker fatality rate in 2020. 

Workers’ compensation claims 2019-20

  • There were a total of 120,355 serious workers’ compensation claims in Australia in 2019-20. This is an increase from 114,435 claims in 2018-19. 
  • Body stressing was the leading cause of serious workers’ compensation claims in 2019-20, accounting for 37% of all serious claims.

Read the Key Work Health and Safety Statistics, Australia 2021 report

Updated Guidance Material: Managing the risks of working in heat

Working in heat can be hazardous and is a common cause of harm among Australian workers. Some common risks of working in heat include heat-related illness, dehydration, burns and reduced concentration. 

Safe Work Australia has updated our guidance material on managing the risks of working in heat. The new guidance reflects changes made to the recommended first aid for heat stroke. 

This guide provides practical guidance for a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) on how to manage the risks associated with working in heat, including information on first aid for heat-related illnesses that reflects updated medical advice.

Download the from SafeWork Australia guide today.

More information on working in heat can be found here https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/topic/working-heat

Information on the risk management process can be found in the Code of Practice: How to manage work health and safety risks.

Information on consultation requirements can be found in the Code of Practice: Work health and safety consultation, co-operation and co-ordination.

Source: SafeWork Australia

Worker seriously injured in fall from roof

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In August 2021, a worker was seriously injured after falling approximately 6m from a roof through a polycarbonate skylight. It appears he was removing and installing polycarbonate sheeting from the warehouse roof during ad-hoc maintenance.

IMPORTANT

These findings are not yet confirmed and investigations are continuing into the exact cause.

This incident alert highlights the risks associated with working on roofs, especially around skylights, plastic roof sheeting, metal roofs or other fragile roof surfaces. It also reminds us of what’s needed to eliminate or minimise those risks.

Safety issues

Falls, particularly those through roofing, are a major cause of death and serious injury at workplaces. The risk of serious injury from a fall depends mainly whether any fall control measures are implemented, the height at which the work is being done and the surface directly below the work at height area. There may also be additional risk when working on or near fragile roof surfaces. Roofs are likely to be fragile if they are made with:

  • asbestos roofing sheets
  • poly carbonate sheets (alsynite) or plastic commonly used in skylights
  • fibre cement sheets
  • liner panels on built-up sheeted roofs
  • metal sheets and fasteners (especially when corroded).

Before commencing any work on a roof or at height, all surfaces must be inspected to identify potentially fragile spots. All locations and tasks which could lead to fall injury should also be identified. This includes access to areas where the work is to be done. Close attention is required for tasks:

  • on any structure or plant being constructed or installed, demolished or dismantled, inspected, tested, repaired or cleaned
  • on a fragile surface (for example, poly carbonate or cement sheeted roofs, rusty metal roofs, fibre glass sheeting roofs and skylights)
  • on a sloping or slippery surface where it is difficult for people to maintain their balance (for example, on glazed tiles or a metal roof that is wet from morning dew or rain)
  • near an unprotected open edge or internal void area (for example, removed roof sheeting).

Whether it’s an existing structure or one under construction, consider skylights and plastic roof sheeting as non-trafficable areas, unless otherwise certified. Even then, ensure the installation has been checked and complies with trafficable installation instructions.

Note: Cut down sheets may need additional fixings and even a missing screw can make a sheet non-trafficable.

Where non-trafficable, provide appropriate fall prevention/protection measures and develop work methods to prevent people from stepping or falling onto these surfaces.

To ensure the necessary control measures are being applied as the work progresses, an ongoing review of the work should also be carried out.

Ways to manage health and safety

Taking steps to manage risks is a condition of doing business in Queensland. Effective risk management starts with a commitment to health and safety from those who manage the business. If an incident occurs, you’ll need to show the regulator you’ve used an effective risk management process. This responsibility is covered by your primary duty of care in the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

Use the hierarchy of controls to help decide how to eliminate and reduce risks in your place of work. The hierarchy of controls ranks types of control methods from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest. It’s a step-by-step approach to eliminating or reducing risks. You must work through the hierarchy of controls when managing risks, with the aim of eliminating the hazard, which is the most effective control.

Possible control measures to prevent similar incidents

In managing the risk of falls, the WHS Regulation requires specific control measures to be implemented, where it is reasonably practicable to do so. For example:

  • if it’s construction work, then Chapter 6 of the WHS Regulation applies
  • if the work meets the definition for high risk construction work (it’s over 2m and is a complete roof replacement of a large shed), then a safe work method statement must be prepared as per Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011. Further regulations would also then apply (for example Part 6.3 Sub-division 2 “Falls” which provides prescriptive control measures).

Effective controls for the risk of falling from a height are often made up of a combination of controls. Some common control measures can include but are not limited to the following examples:

  • Constructing a roof with the roof structure on the ground and then lifting it into place – this can eliminate many fall from heights hazards but is only suitable for the construction of some roofs on new structures where the roof can be lifted into place. In addition, lifting the roof into place will create other hazards that need to be addressed.
  • Using an Elevating Work Platform (EWP) to do work on a roof so workers can remain within the EWP and avoid standing on the roof. This is primarily an example of substituting the hazard for a lesser hazard. However, an EWP design may also be considered an engineering control measure and the EWP must be assessed to determine whether it is the most suitable one for the task/s.
    • The safe operation of EWPs also relies on safe work procedures (i.e., administrative controls), which includes ensuring operators hold the relevant High Risk Work Licence HRWL (where required) to operate the particular EWP.
  • Ensuring safety mesh, complying with AS/NZS 4389:2015, has been installed under the roofing and skylights and perimeter edge protection (complying with the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011). Mesh must be overlapped and secured in accordance with the instructions of the mesh manufacturer. Both safety mesh and edge protection are primarily engineering control measures that address the risk of falling through the roof or off the roof edge. However, safe systems of work need to be implemented for the workers installing the safety mesh and edge protection.
  • Travel restraint systems intended to prevent a fall from a roof edge by physically restricting how close a worker can get to a roof edge. These systems are generally unsuitable where a fall through a roof can occur (i.e., because the roof is fragile or there is no safety mesh under the roof sheeting). They also largely rely on worker training and the worker following a safe system of work. A travel restraint system is a combination of an engineering control (system design)administrative control and personal protective equipment (i.e., the tethering lines and harness).
  • Fall arrest systems for work on roofs are the least preferred risk control measure because they do not prevent a fall occurring but arrest the fall once it has occurred. The worker can still be injured, even if the fall arrest system is set up correctly and the worker’s fall is arrested before he/she hits the ground or another obstruction. After the fall, the worker must be rescued both promptly and safely. Fall arrest systems are primarily a form of personal protective equipment but also rely on engineering controls(i.e., anchorage point strength, harness and lanyard design) and administrative controls (e.g., making sure the lanyard is connected and not too long).

In addition to the hierarchy of controls, the manufacturer’s instructions should be followed for the safe operation and use of plant, machinery and/or systems engaged by the PCBU.

Note: Any administrative control measures and PPE rely on human behaviour and supervision, and used on their own, tend to be least effective in minimising risks.

The control measures you put in place should be reviewed regularly to make sure they work as planned.

More information

Support for people affected by a serious workplace incident

For advice and support:

Source: WorkSafe QLD

WAHA Announcement: Richard Millar

Dear Members and Colleagues,

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Rick Millar on the 26th of August 2021, due to a recent battle with cancer.

Rick had been the CEO of the WAHA for a little over 2 years, after a distinguished career working with a number of manufacturers of fall protection equipment, in a career lasting over 50 years.

Rick was also a founding member of the SF015 committee for Standards Australia, seeing through the creation and subsequent revisions of the ASNZS 1891 Standard. He is also the current Chair of the ISO fall protection Standard and naturally his experience, generous commitment of time and goodwill to assist people in any way he could, will be sadly missed by all people who had the pleasure of interacting with him.

With the direction and support of the board of the WAHA, Scott Barber has agreed to act as CEO of the organisation and assumes this role immediately. In the days to come we will pass on any further information as necessary to those who may wish to offer messages of support to his friends and family.

Regards,

Michael Biddle
Chair, WAHA

New guidance available for inspecting and maintaining elevating work platforms

Did you know that elevating work platforms, or EWPs, need to be inspected at least annually?

Safe Work Australia has published new guidance for inspecting and maintaining EWPs.

Elevating work platforms are high risk equipment that have caused 9 worker fatalities in the past 5 years (2015-2019). An inspection, maintenance and testing program is crucial to assess their safe operation.

There are different types of EWPs, including:

  • scissor lifts
  • self-propelled boom lifts
  • trailer or vehicle mounted lifts, and
  • telehandlers with elevating work platform attachment.

Employers are responsible for keeping workers safe and this includes ensuring that plant equipment is inspected and maintained. Employers must also ensure that workers are given the necessary information, training, instruction and supervision to use EWPs safely.

Read SafeWork Australia’s guidance to make sure you are eliminating or minimising the risks of working with EWPs.

Source: SafeWork Australia

What Solar Installers Must Know about Working at Heights

https://sourceable.net/what-solar-installers-must-know-about-working-at-height/

Working on roofs involves a high degree of risk, Safe Work NSW and other State and Federal Regulators have been concerned at the mounting number of injuries and death when workers are fitting Solar panels to cottage roofs.

Fitting Solar panels and equipment to the roofs of cottages and other buildings such as high Rise & Industrial Buildings leaves the worker exposed to hazards such as roof access, fragile roofs, electricity, manual tasks, falling objects, exposure to heat and sunlight.

All work on roofs is highly dangerous, even if a job only takes a few minutes. Proper precautions are needed to control these risks and such work may be considered ‘construction work ‘which includes work carried out in connection with fitting to, altering, converting, renovating, repairing, maintaining, demolishing, or dismantling a roof of a structure.

Examples of these activities include tiling, roofing restoration and installing solar panels. Minor work on roofs that is not considered ‘construction work’, for example cleaning roof gutters or replacing individual roof tiles, can also have the same hazards, especially the risk of falls.

Safe Work require those carrying out work on roofs must be trained, competent and instructed in use of the precautions required though do not mandate this training. A ‘method statement’ is the common way to help manage work on roofs and communicate the precautions to those involved.

Contractors should work closely with the client and agree arrangements for managing the work specifically for roof access, roof edges, openings, skylights, and fragile roofs

There is a misconception that Working at height means working at a height of 2 meters or more.

Working at heights is where there is a risk of falling from one level to another – injury and death may occur in heights less than 2 meters and falls from any height can leave workers with permanent and debilitating injuries such as fractures, spinal cord injuries, concussion and brain damage. The risk of serious injury or death from a fall increases when working on roofs.

Hazards to consider in managing fall risks include:

  • unprotected edges
  • fragile surfaces
  • skylights
  • holes or vents

Additionally, weather conditions such as wind and rain (for example being blown over the edge or slipping on a wet roof surface), trip hazards (for example roof components and protrusions) and overbalancing when close to an edge while hauling components onto the roof or losing grip on steep pitched or sloping roofs.

Workers such as electricians, plumbers, pest control operators, installers of roof aerials, solar panels, and air-conditioning systems, can trip and fall on roofs, through roofs and openings or while accessing or exiting roof areas.

Work Safe statistical figures suggest almost one in five deaths in construction work involve roof work. Some are specialist roofers, but many are just repairing and cleaning roofs.

  • Main causes: the main causes of death and injury are falling from roof edges or openings, through fragile roofs and through fragile roof lights.
  • Equipment and people: many accidents could be avoided if suitable equipment was used and those doing the work were given adequate information, instruction, training and supervision.

When planning to work on a roof one of the first areas we should look to is the safe access to a roof which requires careful planning, particularly where work progresses along the roof.

Typical methods to access roofs are:

  • general access scaffolds;
  • stair towers;
  • fixed or mobile scaffold towers;
  • mobile access equipment;
  • ladders
  • roof access hatches.

Roof edges and openings

Falls from roof edges occur on both commercial and domestic projects and on new build and refurbishment jobs. Many deaths occur each year involving smaller builders working on the roof of domestic dwellings

  • Sloping roofs: sloping roofs require scaffolding to prevent people or materials falling from the edge. You must also fit edge protection to the eaves of any roof and on terraced properties to the rear as well as the front. Where work is of short duration (tasks measured in minutes), properly secured ladders to access the roof and appropriate roof ladders may be used.
  • Flat roofs: falls from flat roof edges can be prevented by simple edge protection arrangements (there are several different types of edge protection available) – which can be easily mounted and secure the roof edge

Fragile surfaces

Special care needs to be taken when working on fragile roofs, follow a safe system of work using a platform beneath the roof where possible. Work on or near fragile roof surfaces requires a possible combination of staging’s, guard rails, fall restraint, fall arrest and safety nets slung beneath and close to the roof.

  • Fragile roofs: all roofs should be treated as fragile until a competent person has confirmed they are not. Do not trust any sheeted roof, whatever the material, to bear the weight of a person. This includes the roof ridge and purlins.
  • Fragile roof lightsare a particular hazard. Some are difficult to see in certain light conditions and others may be hidden by paint. You must provide protection in these areas, either by using barriers or covers that are secured and labelled with a warning.

The risk of falls must be managed using the most effective control measures that are reasonably practicable, in accordance with the hierarchy of controls. If a single control measure is not enough, a combination of control measures can be used. In order of the hierarchy of control, control measures start with eliminating the risk of falls by avoiding the need to work at height.

For example, installing air-conditioning and similar units at ground level, using devices with extension handles to reach items on or near the roof.

Reducing the amount of time spent working on roofs if working at height cannot be avoided, providing the following safe systems of work such as fall prevention devices. This may be achieved through roof safety mesh, guard railing, scaffolding or elevating work platforms if fall prevention devices are not reasonably practicable, use work positioning systems. Additional systems include travel restraints—these are designed to prevent workers from reaching an edge where they could fall, or if work positioning systems are not reasonably practicable, use fall-arrest systems.

Examples of fall arrest systems include catch platforms, individual fall-arrest systems with harnesses and anchor points and safety nets—these are designed to reduce the severity of injury in a fall. For minor roof tasks of short duration (less than a couple of hours) that are carried out in good weather conditions on a standard single storey roof where the roof itself is flat or almost flat, structurally stable, and non-slippery, safe work procedures (e.g., ensuring workers maintain a 2-metre distance from all exposed edges when working on the roof) and the safe use of ladders may be sufficient to minimise the risk of a fall.

Safe Work NSW has released a SOLAR Installers check list which may be found on their web site www.safework.nsw.gov.au/…/solar-installers-safety-checklist other Regulators have work practice documents providing information on Safe Work on roofs, these documents are supported by regulation and should assist in the preparation of safe work practices which may be reflected in the Safe Work Statements.

The safety guide provides the solar industry with clear direction on controlling risk, including a simple safety checklist for people working in the industry, instructions on developing a site-specific safe work method statement and minimum fall protection measures. Businesses that sell, design and install solar systems have duties to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe, and no solar installer should be working on a roof without fall protection in place.

Article by CEO Richard Millar, for Sourceable.