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Fatal falls on work sites

In 2019, a company director was sentenced to a year in prison and his company fined $1 million in Queensland’s first Category 1 prosecution. The charge of reckless conduct related to a 2014 incident in which a roofer fell almost six metres to his death while working on an unprotected roof edge. Evidence was heard it was considered too expensive to install edge protection. Instead, scissor lift rails were used as a barrier along the roof edge. The worker was positioned near the edge of the roof to straighten the roofing sheets but apparently tripped or stumbled and fell and was not wearing a harness.

In December 2018, the owner of an industrial workplace was killed when he fell through a roof on an unapproved structure. The man was attempting to dismantle and remove the structure, which consisted of an open steel awning with tin roof panelling.

In January 2019, a man was killed when he fell from height at a construction site. Early investigations indicate he could have fallen from the roof or other equipment set up onsite including a ladder and A-frame trestles with planks.

Investigations into these incidents are continuing.

Preventing a similar incident

Falls are a major cause of death and serious injury at workplaces. There is a risk of a fall when work is carried out at height or near to an edge or opening, e.g. working on a roof, unloading a large truck or accessing silos. These incidents highlight the need to implement fall risk control measures suitable for the individual worksite.

Some common control measures that would prevent or minimise the risk of a fall from height, include:

  • using an elevating work platform so workers can avoid standing on the roof itself
  • installing physical barriers (e.g. guard rails) along open edges
  • before working on a surface or structure, ensure you know its load rating
  • a travel restraint or fall-arrest system with adequate anchorage points. Workers using these systems must be provided with adequate training, instruction and supervision in how to use them and in the emergency and rescue procedure should someone fall.

PCBU’s should also consider:

  • the design, condition and layout of elevated work areas, including the distance of a potential fall and the load rating of the structure. If the load rating of the structure is unknown, a competent person such as professional structural engineer, may need to be engaged to determine how much weight it can support.
  • hidden penetrations such as grates, vents, or hatches which could be difficult to see
  • the number and movement of all people at the workplace
  • the suitability of footwear and clothing
  • the adequacy of current knowledge and training to perform the task safely (young, new or inexperienced workers may be unfamiliar with a task)
  • the adequacy of procedures for all emergency situations.

In some cases, a combination of control measures may be necessary, for example using a safety harness while working from an elevating work platform. An elevating work platform allows a person to carry out work at heights and the safety harness prevents the person from being ejected in the event the work platform becomes inverted. Control measures are required where there is a risk of injury irrespective of the fall height.

Statistics

Each year, since 2012 there have been over 3000 accepted workers’ compensation claims for injuries associated with a fall from height. On average, three of these were fatal, while about half were for a serious injury needing five or more days off work. The construction industry accounts for almost 20 percent of claims, which include falling from ladders, roofs, scaffolding and through incomplete flooring and voids.

Since 2013, we have issued 1725 prohibition, 1189 improvement and 45 infringement notices for issues involving a fall from height or the risk of a fall from height.

Prosecutions and compliance

In 2017, a business was fined $75,000 and a sub-contractor $30,000 when a young apprentice fell 3.98m from a roof while trying to retrieve a circular saw at risk of falling itself. The apprentice struck a concrete wall before landing on the ground sustaining a concussion, cuts, abrasions and a laceration to his scalp. There was no edge protection or fall prevention control in place, no site induction nor any work at heights training provided to the apprentice.

In 2016 a company was fined $30,000 with a recognisance of $20,000 if convicted of a similar offence within two years, after a worker fell from a roof of a veranda extension. He climbed onto the roof using a ladder on a trestle plank and began painting while lying on the roof with no edge protection, guarding or other control measure in place. He lost his balance and rolled off the edge falling approximately 4.8 metres, sustaining a fractured hip socket and a fractured wrist.

More information

Support for people affected by a serious workplace incident

Have you been affected by a workplace fatality, illness or serious injury? For advice and support, visit our Facebook page or email ohs.consultativecommittee@oir.qld.gov.au.

Last updated
07 March 2019

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