Construction workers seriously injured in spate of falls

WorkSafe Victoria is reminding employers of the risks associated with working from heights after a spate of serious injuries in the construction industry.

Source: WorkSafe Victoria

On 26 July, an apprentice electrician fell while loading solar panels onto a roof at a domestic premises in Coburg, sustaining a broken ankle, wrist and eye socket. 

The next day, a plumber fell more than two metres at a housing construction site in Frankston, leaving them with serious head and back injuries. 

Then, on 28 July, a worker was taken to hospital with a cut to the head after falling about four metres from a ladder at a Broadmeadows construction site.

Since 2018, WorkSafe has accepted 6340 claims from workers injured in falls from height, with construction workers accounting for almost one third (29 per cent) of these claims.

More than half of the claims from the construction industry (52 per cent) were falls from ladders, scaffolding, mobile platforms or mobile stairs.

Falls from height are also one of the leading causes of workplace deaths in the construction industry, with 14 fatal incidents since 2018.

In February, a 69-year-old worker died after falling from a height of about five metres at a construction site in Cheltenham.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer stressed that every injury and death caused by falls is preventable if the right steps are taken to eliminate or reduce risks.

“This terrible sequence of incidents – three falls in three days – highlights the very real risks of working from heights,” Dr Beer said.

“It is every employer’s duty to ensure measures are in place to control these risks, such as a passive fall prevention device and a fall arrest system.”

WorkSafe can and will take action against employers who fail to ensure their workers are properly trained and appropriate safety measures are in place.

So far in 2022, fines totalling $489,000 have been imposed against construction companies and directors in 12 WorkSafe prosecutions for failing to protect workers from the dangers of working from height.

WorkSafe supports employers in maintaining safe workplaces through site visits and guidance, with further support available through the free and confidential OHS Essentials program.

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.

Managing Psychological Hazards at Work.

Course: Safe Work Australia

New model WHS Regulations and Code of Practice to help prevent psychological harm at work.

Preventing psychological harm is an essential part of creating a healthy and safe workplace.

The model work health and safety (WHS) laws now include regulations on psychosocial hazards. A new model Code of Practice on Managing psychosocial hazards at work explains the laws and how to comply with them, including practical steps to manage workplace risks to psychological health.  

Safe Work Australia Chief Executive Officer Michelle Baxter said that “under work health and safety laws, PCBUs have a positive duty to do everything they reasonably can to prevent exposure to psychosocial hazards and risks.

“Psychosocial hazards are anything at work that may cause psychological harm. 

“They can come from the way work is designed and managed, the working environment, or behaviours including bullying, harassment, discrimination, aggression and violence.”

Ms Baxter said work-related psychological injuries and illness have a significant negative impact on workers, their families and business. 

“On average, work-related psychological injuries have longer recovery times, higher costs, and require more time away from work when compared with physical injuries.

“Workers’ compensation claims for psychological injury and illness have increased and impose high costs to employers through time off and workers’ compensation costs.

“Managing psychosocial risks protects workers, decreases staff turnover and absenteeism, and may improve broader organisational performance and productivity.”

The model WHS Regulations and Code of Practice: Managing psychosocial hazards at work were developed through Safe Work Australia’s tripartite process which includes Commonwealth, state and territory governments, and employer and worker representatives. 

The model Code of Practice: Managing psychosocial hazards at work is available on the Safe Work Australia website along with other materials including new model WHS Regulations to support PCBUs to meet their WHS duties.

Background

Safe Work Australia is an Australian government statutory agency. We develop national policy to improve WHS and workers’ compensation arrangements across Australia. 

As a national policy body, we do not regulate WHS laws or administer workers’ compensation arrangements. The Commonwealth, states and territories regulate and enforce WHS laws and administer workers’ compensation schemes in their jurisdictions. 

The model WHS Regulations and model Code of Practice do not automatically apply in a jurisdiction. Find information on WHS in your jurisdiction by contacting your WHS regulator.

Mental health support 

As well as resources to help you manage psychosocial risks there are also services to help if you, your family, friend or colleague are feeling depressed, stressed or anxious.  

House moving company and director fined over workplace roof fall

Source: WorkSafe QLD

A Queensland house moving company and its director have been fined a total of $60,000 over a work safety incident where a worker fell from a roof.

The company and its sole director/shareholder both pleaded guilty recently in the Bundaberg Magistrates Court to breaching Queensland’s Work Health and Safety Act 2011 by failing to comply with their health and safety duties, exposing a worker to a risk of death or serious injury.

The company operates a business centred around the relocation, demolition, re-stumping and raising of houses.

The court heard the company was contracted to remove a double storey residential house in Wallaville. On 7 January 2021, three workers were at the site, including an 18-year-old who had worked for the company for five months but had no formal qualifications or experience, nor did he receive any induction or formal training. He was also unaware of any written procedures or safe work method statements (SWMS). The company had a generic SWMS, but it was not site specific, nor had it been updated in nine years.

A Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) investigation found that whilst the young worker was on the roof placing a tarpaulin across the ceiling for weather protection, he put his foot in the roof valley and it gave way, causing him to fall 5m to the ground. He sustained a back injury, was hospitalised for nine days and unable to work for several months, before ultimately starting a new job.

The WHSQ investigation also revealed that even though safety harnesses were made available to workers, the company did not enforce their use, nor were there any other protections or measures in place to eliminate or minimise the risk of workers falling from height such as adequate policies, procedures, or training to ensure a safe system of work. However, following the incident, the company completely overhauled its safety procedures, including engaging a workplace health and safety consultant to develop inductions, to review the safety systems and to draft a new and extensive SWMS, together with mandating working at height training and the use of harnesses and other controls.

In sentencing, Magistrate John McInnes identified that the point of the legislation was to make workers safe. His honour took into account the guilty pleas and that the director was a person of good character and had embraced the lessons learnt from the incident. However, Magistrate McInnes also considered that the victim impact statement reinforced what can occur from such incidents, as well as the lasting consequences.

The sole director was fined $15,000 and the company $45,000. Costs totalled just over $1,700, with no convictions recorded.

Safe Work Australia release Guide to Managing Industrial Rope Access

Source: Safe Work Australia

The Guide to managing risks of industrial rope access systems was released in June 2022.

An industrial rope access system is a work positioning system used for gaining access to, and working at, a workface, usually through vertically suspended ropes.

Industrial rope access, or, more specifically, ‘twin-rope’ access, is an important method for performing working at height activities and requires a high level of competency on the part of the user. Industrial rope access is a special kind of work positioning system that uses equipment to prevent a fall by vertically suspending a worker in a harness.

The Safe Work Australia Guide to managing risks of industrial rope access provides information on managing the risks associated with industrial rope access systems, including:

  • selection and installation of anchors
  • anchor access and layout
  • anchor inspection and testing
  • rigging techniques
  • rope protection, and
  • exclusion zones.

This guide is for:

  • industrial rope access service providers
  • building managers
  • building owners
  • building body corporates
  • principal contractors, and
  • other PCBSs at a workplace where an industrial rope access system is used.

This document is a guide only. It is not to be used as an industry code. 

As is a guidance document only, it should be read in conjunction with ASNZS 1891 and ISO 22846 as there are inconsistencies between the newly published Guide and Australian Standards. 

Additional guidance on rope access can be found on our website, or by contacting IRATA International.

SafeWork NSW Construction Inspectors are now targeting unsafe rooftop solar installations.

Source: SafeWork NSW 04 July 2022

From June to December 2022, SafeWork Inspectors will be targeting rooftop solar installations across NSW to address serious non-compliance.

In 2021, when checking solar installations SafeWork Inspectors found that an unacceptable 27% of installations were using no roof fall protection at all. Our Inspectors also found that of the 40% of sites that were using harnesses, more than half of these workers were still at risk due the to harness being used unsafely (57%) and/or not actually clipped onto anything (50%). A copy of the findings report can be accessed on the SafeWork website.

SafeWork NSW is working with industry to ensure rooftop solar installation workers are safe when working on ladders and roofs, and with electricity. Roof rails and scaffolds are the best type of fall protection when working on roofs.

SafeWork NSW takes a zero-tolerance approach to workers lives being placed at risk, and will issue on-the-spot fines to installers using no or inadequate fall protection. 

SafeWork NSW has developed guidance materials to assist solar retailers and installers to understand their work health and safety obligations and how to work safely with solar, including a solar safety guide and safety checklist.

SafeWork will be holding online events for retailers and principal contractors, so you can know your safety obligations and ensure your contractors and workers are safe.

Visit the SafeWork NSW website and Guide to safe solar panel installation for more information.

Company fined $600,000 following apprentice’s death.

Source: Work Safe Victoria – Friday 24 Jun 2022

A road tanker manufacturer has been convicted and fined $600,000 following the asphyxiation death of an apprentice while working inside a tanker at its Cranbourne West factory in 2018.

Marshall Lethlean Industries Pty Ltd was sentenced in the Melbourne Country Court today after earlier pleading guilty to a single charge of failing to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, that the workplace was safe and without risk to health.

The court heard that in October 2018, the apprentice, who had been working at the factory less than two weeks, was asked to undertake work inside a tanker.

The previous day another worker had left a welder inside the tanker along with a wire feeder, which was in a state of disrepair and leaked argon gas overnight, reducing oxygen.

The apprentice died of asphyxiation after entering the confined space of the tanker to conduct the work.

The court found it was reasonably practicable for the company to have provided and maintained a system of work that required a qualified welding inspector to routinely inspect and maintain equipment; require workers to store the welder and wire feeder outside the tanker when not in use; and require workers to turn off the argon gas main at the end of use.

Acting WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Adam Watson said the incident was an absolute tragedy that could have been avoided.

“The dangers of working in confined spaces are well known and there is no excuse for employers who fail to control the risks,” Mr Watson said.

“This incident highlights just how important simple measures such as maintenance and storage procedures are to keeping workers and workplaces safe. Sadly a failure to do so in this case cost a young man his life.”

To control the risks of working in confined spaces employers should:

  • First, consider whether the work can be done another way without entering the confined space. For example, provide outlets and facilities for cleaning to eliminate the need for entry.
  • Test the atmosphere to quantify the level of oxygen, atmospheric contaminants and any flammable gas or vapour present in the space. Then you can determine appropriate risk controls.
  • Ensure employees do not enter a confined space unless they have been issued with an entry permit for the space and there is a stand-by person watching the work from outside the space.
  • Establish entry and exit procedures for the confined space, and emergency procedures. Ensure these are communicated to your employees.
  • Put signs on or near any confined space, and at each entry point, to warn that only people who have been properly trained and have an entry permit may enter.
  • Ensure appropriate respiratory protective equipment (air-supplied or air purifying) is used where required.
  • Provide employees with enough information, instruction and training to do their work safely and without risks to health. This may include for example, training in hazard identification and risk control methods, entry permit procedures, emergency procedures and use of respiratory protective equipment.

Roofing company fined after worker’s fall.

Source: Work Safe Victoria – Friday 10 Jun 2022

A roofing company has been fined $20,000 after a fall at a residential construction site in Mount Duneed.

CSR Building Products Ltd, trading as Monier Roofing, pleaded guilty in the Geelong Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday to one charge of failing to ensure the workplace was safe and without risks to health.

The company was sentenced, with conviction, and was also ordered to pay costs of $4,950.

The court heard that in May 2018, an employee of a contractor was on the roof of the single storey site nailing roof battens in place when it is believed he stepped on an unsecured batten, causing him to fall more than three metres onto a concrete slab below, suffering serious injuries.

WorkSafe inspectors who attended the site found that the method used to install the battens was to rest each batten against a tack nail, only nailing them in once all the trusses were in place.

This was at odds with a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) prepared for the work which stipulated that, to prevent falls, a progressive battening technique be used to provide a secure platform for workers as they made their way up the roofline. However, the SWMS did not provide details on how to undertake progressive battening.

The court heard that it was reasonably practicable for the company to provide a SWMS for the roofing work which included detailed instructions on the installation of roof battens.

On 17 March 2020, the contractor who employed the worker pleaded guilty to not working in accordance with the SWMS and was, without conviction, fined $15,000 and ordered to pay costs of $5,751.59.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said the dangers of falls from heights were well known and WorkSafe would not hesitate to prosecute any employer who put their workers’ health at risk through unsafe work practises.

“Even falls from relatively low heights can leave people with permanent, debilitating injuries,” Dr Beer said.

“As an employer, it’s your responsibility to keep your workplace safe, including protecting your workers by ensuring safe systems of work are being followed.”

To prevent falls from height employers can:

  • 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.

Amendments to the model WHS laws

Amendments to the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws have been published on the Safe Work Australia website:
model WHS Act and Explanatory Memorandum
model WHS Regulations and Explanatory Statement

The amendments implement a number of recommendations from the 2018 Review of the model WHS laws.
The amendments do not automatically apply in a jurisdiction. For the model WHS Act and model WHS Regulations to have effect in a jurisdiction they must be enacted in that jurisdiction.

They include amendments to:
– the model WHS Regulations to deal with psychosocial risks (recommendation 2)
– work group provisions (recommendation 7b)
– health and safety representative (HSR) training (recommendation 10)
– remove the 24-hour notice period for entry permit holders (recommendation 15)
– align the process for issuing service of notices to provide clarity and consistency (recommendation 16)
– enable inspectors to require production of documents and answers to questions within 30 days of any inspector’s entry to a workplace (recommendation 17)
– clarify that a WHS regulator’s power to obtain information relevant to investigations of potential breaches of the model WHS laws has extra-territorial application (recommendation 18)
– clarify the circumstances in which WHS regulators can share information between jurisdictions (recommendation 19)
– include gross negligence as a fault element in the Category 1 offence (recommendation 23a)
– improve regulator accountability for investigation progress (recommendation 24)
– prohibit insurance for WHS penalties (recommendation 26)
– improve record keeping and operator training for amusement devices and passenger ropeways (recommendation 28)
– compliance with Standards not mandatory unless specified (recommendation 31b)
– give effect to recommendations that are minor or technical in nature.

Go to the Implementation of the WHS ministers’ agreed response to the Review of the Model WHS Laws web page for a more detailed overview of the amendments.

For information on WHS laws in your jurisdiction, please contact your WHS regulator.

Are You Keeping Your Workers Safe?

Article by WAHA CEO Scott Barber, for Sourceable.

With workplace risk profiles constantly changing and the training & equipment maintenance requirements increasing each year, many organisations go into reactive mode with regards to managing their working at heights systems and PPE.

As a result, we see organisations adopting a “tick the box” risk management system just to meet the minimum compliance requirements.

We need to look to more effective and proactive ways to manage the changing risks of our workplaces and ensure safety protocols meet these needs. When we do this, we discover ways to remove the layers of complexity from equipment application and selection, make it more simple to train our teams and maintain their skills, ensure what we specify is fit for purpose and all while comply with any Regulatory requirements we face.

The High Cost of Worker Non-Compliance
When a decision is made to work at height without applying the basics of safe work practice, regardless if the task will take just a few minutes or is occurring at a low height, the risks, and potential costs, can be enormous.

Fall-related injuries and deaths can be devastating on a physical, emotional, and financial level for the worker, the worker’s family, and the employer. In addition to the potential loss of life or serious life-altering injuries, a fall can easily cripple or bankrupt a business.

What do you need to do?

Applying the Hierarchy of Controls is the first step in addressing the risk:

  • Avoid work at heights, where possible.
  • When it is necessary to work at heights, ensure that workers are not exposed to unnecessary risks.
  • Where it is not possible to eliminate fall risk, use a suitable fall protection system to minimize consequences of a fall.
  • Choose PPE and access methods that allow workers to perform their tasks with minimal interference.

How do you decide what equipment to use?

The nature of the work being carried out needs to be the starting point as not all harness and connection methods will be suitable for all tasks. As part of the risk profiling, the potential for passive protection measures needs to be addressed before prioritising personal protection (PPE) measures.

When addressing equipment selection criteria look at all the risks, not just those associated with the ‘use’ phase. Duration and frequency of use will help determine  whether permanent solutions are required, or if the application of a PPE based access method is more suitable.

What is passive protection?

Passive protection is a system design which can protect more than one person and, once properly installed or erected, requires minimal actions by the user to make sure it will perform. Examples include hand rails, scaffolds and Elevated Work Platforms (EWPs) which use guard rails to reduce the risk of a fall.

What is personal protection?

Personal protection is equipment which provides protection to the user/wearer only and requires actions by the individual, including correct fitting and adjusting, for it to perform appropriately. Examples include fall arrest equipment including harnesses, lanyards, Personal Fall Limiters (PFLs) and Self Retracting Life Lines (SRLs) which minimise the consequences of a fall.

This also includes fixed/engineered systems like Horizontal Life Lines and Vertical Life Lines (ladder systems) to provide permanent connection means in collaboration with appropriate PPE.

This method is termed “Collective Protection” as it involves multiple elements from the Hierarchy of Controls.

Please note, the use of personal protection requires appropriate training in working at height, and consideration for skills maintenance should be accommodated in any ongoing training matrix.

What else do you need to do?

Ensure all personnel who select, assemble, use and supervise the use of the equipment have been suitably trained and have access to all the relevant information relating to their safe use. This includes understanding equipment cross-compatibility and the inspection and maintenance requirements as per the manufacturer’s guidelines and all relevant Standards.

Fall Clearance

If you have not determined the available clearance below the working surface and calculated your total fall clearance properly, then a fall leading to potential serious or fatal injuries may still occur regardless of the fall arrest system being used.

Safe fall clearance is required to ensure that any fall from a working platform will be arrested before a worker can impact the ground or any other obstruction such as building extrusions, machinery or pipework.

Scott Barber is Chief Executive Officer of the Working at Height Association of Australia

Australian Government Announce Skills Reform

To support the future growth and prosperity of our nation, the Australian, state and territory governments are committed to improving the vocational education and training (VET) system through reform: a strong VET system is critical for Australia’s long-term economic recovery from COVID-19.

Skills reform consultation

Skills Ministers have agreed to progress the immediate reforms under the Heads of Agreement for Skills Reforms, including enhanced industry engagement, qualifications and quality reforms.

On the skills reform consultation page you can:

  • provide your thoughts on improving the VET sector
  • find the latest information on skills reform consultation.

Proposed “Industry Cluster” for Building, Infrastructure, Construction, and Property. 

The Australian Government is establishing Industry Clusters to provide industry with a stronger, more strategic voice and broader role in ensuring Australia’s VET system continues to deliver on employer and learner needs. The initiative forms part of the broader Skills Reform Agenda, which aims to improve the quality, accessibility and relevance of the VET sector. 

The Industry Clusters will be groups of aligned industries with a strategic leadership role to identify, forecast, and respond to the current and emerging skills needs and workforce challenges of industry. 

Industry Clusters will be established through a two-stage grant opportunity approach to market. The first stage will involve an open competitive process seeking proposals to establish and subsequently operate an Industry Cluster. The second stage will involve a closed non-competitive process to enable the newly established clusters to put forward detailed proposals to deliver on their full functions. 

Industry Cluster Composition – Building, Infrastructure, Construction and Property (BICPIC) 

There are five industries that are nominated in the Building, Infrastructure, Construction and Property Industry Cluster. This Cluster covers property services and small- or large-scale construction services, including traditional building and construction trades (e.g. plumbing, tiling, carpentry) as well as large scale civil infrastructure services (e.g. road, dam, bridge and tunnel construction). 

Combining these various sectors within one Industry Cluster offers vastly improved opportunities to enhance the accessibility, quality, and relevance of vocational training. 

When taken together, they cover the life cycle of the built environment, from design, construction through to maintenance. In June 2020, these sectors combined employed approximately 1,702,000 people across the country, even in the midst of the pandemic. As of December 2020, it’s estimated that there were approximately 104,000 apprentices and trainees in training within those sectors.

In terms of both scale and impact, these sectors are of vital importance to our society. Likewise, ensuring that training is fit to purpose and skills are updated to meet current and future needs around compliance, digitalisation, and sustainable development is of central importance. 

The WAHA will continue to work on involvement during the Skills Reform.

Have your say to help shape the future of Australia’s VET system.

https://www.skillsreform.gov.au