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.

References: 

Safe Work Australia Model Code of Practice: Confined Spaces

IRATA International Topic Sheet No. 20

SafeWork Australia – 2023 work health and safety

Source: SafeWork Australia

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.

There are still too many serious injuries, fatalities and illnesses arising from work. The findings from the latest Key Work Health and Safety Statistics 2023 show that:

  • Body stressing, Falls, slips and trips, and Being hit by moving objects are the cause of most work related injuries in Australia,
  • Vehicle incidents and Being hit by moving objects continue to account for most fatalities, and
  • Work related mental health conditions are rising, with time off work in these cases more than four times longer than for other injuries. 

Falls from height continue to be a major cause of serious accidents in the workplace. Notwithstanding the overall improvement of health and safety at work over recent years, falls from height still occur. Indeed, falls from height were one of the principal cause of fatalities in the 2022 period, comprising 9% of all fatalities according to Safe Work Australia figures. Where such incidents happen, employers and controllers of the premises are likely to face investigations by the state and territory regulatory bodies. The outcome can be prosecutions with resultant significant fines and/or prison sentences. Incidents are also more likely than not to lead to personal injury claims which in view of the circumstances and nature of the injuries sustained can often be substantial in value. 

The 2023 Work-Related injury fatalities / Key Work Health and Safety Statistics publication shows that risks rising from work at height remains a major source of incidents and that those involved in such works still need to do more to minimise the dangers. 

Falls, trips and slips of a person make up 22% of all serious compensation claims throughout 2022. 

SafeWork Australia Key Work Health and Safety Statistics 2023

The Construction Sector remains one of the leading industries work workplace fatalities and incidents / workers’ compensation claims. The outcomes of falls in the workplace are more likely to be life-threatening when compared to many other incident types. 

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 sustained from a fall from height can easily have wider spread complications which can affect the whole body, cause significant damage to vital organs, and if not directly resulting in death, have life-altering long term consequences.

Another cause of injury and illness that is becoming a serious concern, is those relating to Mental Health. Mental health conditions accounted for 9.2% or 11,700 serious claims in 2021-22p. While this was a slight decline on 2020-21, it remains substantially higher than 10 years ago. How does it relate to us in the working at heights sector? Well, in the Construction sector alone, workers are 8x more likely to die by suicide than from an accident at work. The following unique stressors were identified in the “Mates in Construction” Blueprint Roundtable: competitive and male- dominated workplace culture; stigma and fear around the subjects of mental health and suicide; ignorance of the increased risk of suicide and mental health issues for workers; failure by management to accept or apportion responsibility; higher levels of substance and alcohol misuse; disparate workplaces, FIFO (Fly in, Fly out) and DIDO (Drive in, Drive out) work; working while exposed to the elements; and, inconsistent/intermittent work.

Over the 10 years to 2021-22p:

The proportion of claims for Mental health conditions has increased from 6.5% in 2011-12 to 9.2% in 2021-22p. This has been driven by growth in the number of serious claims each year for Mental health conditions of 3,500 claims, or a 43.3%, increase over the period.

This represents the largest growth in the number of claims each year for a Nature of injury/illness Major group observed over the period.

Workplace mental health conditions are one of the costliest forms of workplace injury. They lead to significantly more time off work and higher compensation paid when compared to physical injuries and diseases.

The median time lost from Mental health condition claims in 2020-21 (34.2 working weeks) was more than four times the median time lost across all claims (8.0).

The median compensation paid for Mental health condition claims in 2020-21 ($58,615) was close to four times the median compensation paid across all claims ($15,743).

Solar installer charged for ignoring fall from height risk

Source: SafetySolutions

A Darwin business and its manager have been charged for failing to ensure that its workers used fall protection while working on the roof of a commercial building. NT WorkSafe alleges that over a four-day period in August 2023, which coincided with two visits from WorkSafe Inspectors responding to safety concerns from members of the public, not all the workers installing solar panels on the roof of a commercial building had tethered the harness they wore to manage the risks of a fall. Amongst the workers not using fall protection was the manager supervising the work and a first-year apprentice.

Mpriza Group Pty Ltd, which provides solar, electrical and air-conditioning services, has been charged with three breaches of the Work Health and Safety (National Uniform Legislation) Act 2011 (the Act), including two reckless conduct charges under Section 31 of the Act for failing their primary duty of care under Section 19(a) and one charge under Section 33 of the Act for failing to comply with their health and safety duty, also under Section 19(a).

The manager supervising the works, Nicholas Zikos, has been charged with three breaches of the Act, including two reckless conduct charges under Section 31 for failing his primary duty of care under Section 19(a) and one charge under Section 33 of the Act for failing to comply with his health and safety duty, also under Section 19(a). If found guilty of all charges, the business faces a combined maximum penalty of $6.05 million while Zikos faces a combined maximum penalty of $1.25 million or five years’ prison, or both.

Charges under Section 32 of the Act for failing to comply with health and safety duty have also been laid against both defendants as alternatives to the reckless conduct charges. The matter will be addressed at the Darwin Local Court on Monday, 29 January 2024.

Learning from Failure

It is a rare thing to meet someone in the working at heights sector, who doesn’t have a story around a near miss, human error, or of a failure of a system. What is important to acknowledge from such stories is that human error is as important as mechanical or rigging failure. There are numerous causes of human error has led to a fall or an incident at height, including complacency, poor communication, lack of knowledge and over confidence. 

Whilst we can readily admit that within the heights industry many have had ‘moments of stupidity’; it is when these moments occur without a witness, ‘a near miss’, incidents that may have resulted in a consequence greater than an increased heart rate and a sudden realisation of your own mortality. 

Learning from failure is a vital part of the safety system; and human error is one that is neglected. Whether it’s forgetting part of the safety system, threading devices incorrectly, having more that the prescribed number of persons attached to a system, a karabiner misconnection, dropping tools or equipment, not connecting to safety systems. All of these occurrences are considered to be a near miss. 

We use the term neglected, because it is rare that workers ‘own up to small mistakes’, or that there is a workplace culture that mocks such occurrences instead of supporting the worker, and seeking action(s) to prevent them from happening again. It is vital that such incidents are reported. Without such reporting, these occurrences don’t become a learning experience for others.

Ultimately, unreported near misses may at some point result in an injury or fatality. For example, a small fall from height where no injury occurred may result in the same situation recurring where injury or fatality may occur. 

One theory1 tells us that for a large number of ‘No damage, Near miss’ events there will be a smaller number of ‘damage accidents’ and – ultimately – a ‘serious or disabling’ event, e.g. a fatality.

Accordingly, one way to help prevent the more serious incidents is to report the near misses. By reporting all the smaller, seemingly ‘insignificant’ incidents, it may be possible to identify a pattern in the types of incidences, which could lead to a way to prevent them.­­

Even though it may seem like nobody wants to own up to, or report a foolish mistake, it is important to recognise that near miss information can be used to make changes, prevent accidents and save lives. 

There is a multitude of reasons why things can go wrong:

  • There may be a ‘blame culture’.
  • A technician may lack experience or knowledge.
  • There may be poor supervision.
  • There may be a lapse of judgment.
  • Someone may decide to cut a corner.
  • There may be a false sense of safety.
  • A near miss may not be reported.
  • Procedures may be ineffective or inefficient.
  • Someone may be overconfident.
  • Communication may be poor.

You and those you work with can take steps to ensure near misses do not occur, and if they do, have the workplace culture in place to support the reporting process. 

You can take time to assess what is going on. You’re less likely to have a lapse in judgement when tasks are though through properly. 

Allow adequate time to complete tasks. Don’t encourage rushing. 

Encourage near miss reporting (if necessary, reporting can be anonymous). You can ‘learn from failure’.

Ensure good standards of supervision. There should be enough manager(s) and/or supervisor(s).

Use the correct people for the task. Protect and teach those who are inexperienced.

Make sure that technicians are aware of the risks and the potential severity of an incident. Training and information is vital.

Ensure that communication is suitable and sufficient. Assess each task separately and ask yourself, “What’s different today?”

Ensure that procedures are kept under review. Work methods evolve and improve; make use of the most efficient and effective methods available.

Encourage a “no blame culture”. Where possible, ensure that technicians learn from their mistakes (rather than being punished for them). 

It is also important to consider how you can encourage or incentivise workers to report and discuss near misses and experiences that they have encountered or heard about. 

You can utilise toolbox talks or task assessment briefings; have a variety of topics around near misses, and encourage participation – it’s quite amazing to see the knock on effect once one person shares a near miss they experienced or heard about. These completed documents can also aid a business in demonstrating a commitment to safety. 

It is also possible for businesses to review the management system’s procedures around ‘near misses’ and incident reporting to ensure that all workers can feel comfortable about reporting without fear of reprisal, or detriment to their position at work. 

Further reading:

Human factors: Behavioural safety approaches – an introduction (also known as behaviour modification)
https://www.hse.gov.uk/humanfactors/topics/behaviouralintor.htm

SafeWork Australia – Incident Reportin
https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/safety-topic/managing-health-and-safety/incident-reporting

IRATA International Topic Sheet No. 2: Near Misses: Learning from Failure
https://irata.org/downloads/2237

1 Frank E. Bird, Jr (1921 – 2007)

Dust and particulate safety

Source: WAHA Member, Height Safety Engineers – Article by Matthew Hatton

The inhalation of dust and particulate matter created during building or maintenance work presents a significant health hazard to workers across all industries.

The creation of dust and other particulate matter that can become airborne is something that is largely unavoidable when completing building, construction, or maintenance work. It is created when all sorts of materials are cut, drilled, or taken to with a grinder.

Some particulates, asbestos fibres for example, have been known to be hazardous for over 30 years now. While the hazards presented by other dusts and particulates – like crystalline silica – have only become known more recently.

Like many other types of hazards in the workplace, there are times when the creation of dust or particulates is unavoidable. In these situations, it is vital that correct and compliant mitigations be put in place to protect workers, other building occupants and the public.

What is asbestos?

Put briefly, asbestos is the collective name for a range of naturally occurring silicate mineral fibres. These fibres were used in a wide range of building and machinery products.

Its widest use occurred during the 20th century, while its effects on health were known. Although its use started to be phased out in Australia through the 1970s and 80s, it was not completely banned until late 2003.

Asbestos was an incredibly versatile substance and at the time of peak use was found in everything from building insulation and cladding to hair dryers and cosmetics. Perhaps most famously, the snow used in the Wizard of Oz film was made of pure asbestos.

Inhalation of asbestos fibres poses a significant risk to a person’s health. Fibres embed themselves in the lungs and, over time, can cause fatal respiratory diseases and cancers, including mesothelioma.

What is crystalline silica

Like asbestos, crystalline silica is a naturally occurring substance. It is a type of silicon dioxide, a substance that is one of the most abundant on the planet found in soil, rocks, and sand. The most common form of crystalline silica is the mineral quartz.

Crystalline silica is also a prominent component of manufactured stone. This type of stone has been used extensively in kitchen bench tops. It is also a core component of bitumen, grout, glass, and cement.

Silica dust is created when workers chip, drill or grind objects that contain silica, including crystalline silica. Like asbestos, these dust particles can become airborne and, when inhaled, embed themselves in the lungs.

While any single exposure to crystalline silica dust can lead to serious health problems, the probability increases dramatically with repeated exposure.

Minimising dust and particulate creation

Like any workplace hazard, the risks of exposure to asbestos and other dangerous particles can be mitigated by applying safety controls. Determining what controls can be used is done through completion of a risk assessment and application of the hierarchy of controls.

As is ever the case, the best protection against exposure to dust and particulates is to not use materials that create dust and particulates. When it comes to using stone and stone products, that could involve getting pieces pre-made offsite thus not requiring any cutting, or drilling to be completed as part of the installation process.

If drilling, cutting, or grinding material is required, then dust is likely to be produced and efforts to minimise or capture it should be made. This can include the use of different tools, utilising dust capture and extraction machines, using water to keep the point of cutting or grinding wet to stop dust becoming airborne and cleaning tools regularly to clear them of excess dust and particulate.

Minimising the spread of dust and particulates

Even if controls are put in place to minimise the creation of dust, efforts should still be made to limit the spread of any dust or particulates that are generated. The best way to go about this is to isolate the area where the dust-creating work is taking place.

If the working area is indoors, steps should be taken to seal off the area from the rest of the building, and the outside. This includes looking doors, windows, vents, exhaust fans and any other way airborne particles and dust could spread beyond the controlled work area.

Care should also be taken when it comes to clothing. Dust and particulates can attach themselves to a worker’s clothes, which are then taken off-site, back home and all places in-between. The best protection against this is the use of protective coveralls. These are worn over the top of regular clothes and removed at the conclusion of work, prior to departing the controlled area.

Mitigating inhalation risk

All control measures relating to dust and particulates are to reduce the likelihood that airborne fibres and particles are inhaled by a worker or other person. Along with all the measures that can be taken to limit the creation of dust and its spread, specific PPE is also going to be required to add a further layer of protection.

Generally, this takes the form of a face mask. Masks come in a variety of shapes and types, each with specific benefits, drawbacks, and scenarios they should be used in. When it comes to working with hazardous substances like crystalline silica and asbestos, the face mask chosen should be designed for those specific particles and fibres. It should also form a complete seal around the mouth and nose – this requires it be fit tested.

Protective eyewear should also be used. Although we do not breathe through our eyes, dust and fibres can still make their way into the body through the eyes. Humans tend to touch their faces often. It is a subconscious action, and a very easy way for hazardous substances to be transferred from the hands to the face.

Identification is key

Understanding where the risks of dust and particular exposure – especially asbestos and crystalline silica – are and what to do if it is present at a worksite is the most important step that can be taken to mitigate the risks of exposure.

11084NAT Course in asbestos awareness and 10830NAT Course in crystalline silica exposure prevention are nationally accredited training courses that provide detailed information on what the dangers of these substances are, where they are typically located, what to look for before you start work and how exposure prevention controls can be implemented.

For those needing to conduct work on asbestos containing materials 10852NAT Course in working safely with asbestos containing materials provides skills and techniques for being as safe as possible while working in situations where the risks of asbestos exposure are greatest.