In March 2018, a 19 year old worker sustained fracture injuries to both kneecaps, partially severed fingers on one hand and a severe laceration to his calf when he fell approximately three metres from a roof.
An edge protection system was installed around the roof perimeter. The system was erected by a scaffolder and consisted of a post and rail setup. Scaffold components were used to construct the edge protections system, specifically tube and coupler. Early investigations indicate there may have been a failure of a mid-rail which the worker was leaning against. The mid-rail has pulled away on one end at the coupler joint, resulting in the worker falling through the gap.
The investigation is continuing.
Preventing a similar incident
Edge protection systems may be an effective way to manage some of the risks of working at heights. The effectiveness of an edge protection system depends on:
- appropriate design
- manufacture in accordance with the designer's specifications
- test and examination after manufacture
- instructions supporting use and maintenance of the system
- correct installation by a competent person
- appropriate use.
If edge protection is used as a control measure, then section 306E of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 also requires:
- the design withstands the downwards or outwards force of the impact of a person falling against it
- that a rail, or another component that prevents people from falling, be fitted
- that another rail (or rails), or sturdy mesh, sheeting or other material below the rail or component be fitted.
If the edge protection has rails, the edge protection must have:
- a bottom rail fitted at least 150mm, but not over 250mm, higher than the surface that is at the base of the edge protection; or
- a toe board, for the surface that is at the base of the edge protection, at least 150mm high and fitted below all rails of the edge protection; and
- another rail or rails fitted so that there is not over 450mm between any rail and its nearest rail or between the lowest rail and any toe board for the surface that is at the base of the edge protection; and
- if the slope of the surface from which work is to be done is over 26° - sturdy mesh, sheeting or other material that extends upwards at least 900mm from the surface that is at the base of the edge protection or the toe board.
Each year, there are approximately 46 fall from height Workers' Compensation claims, where scaffolding (including edge protection systems) is involved. Of these claims, almost two-thirds (64%) result in a serious injury with five days or more off work, more than double the rate when compared to serious injuries for all claims (30%).
Since 2012, there have been 181 events notified to Workplace Health and Safety Queensland where workers or others were injured as a result of people falling through or from scaffolding (including edge protections systems). One of these events involved a fatality and 116 related to a serious injury involving hospitalisation. Eighty per cent of the notifications occurred in the construction industry.
During the same time period, 950 notices were issued by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland relating to falls from scaffolding. Of these, 67 specifically related to edge protection. They were made up of 38 improvement notices and 29 prohibition notices.
Prosecutions and compliance
In 2013, a company was fined $30,000 and received a 12 month court ordered undertaking after a worker fell 4.2 metres and sustained a compound fracture-dislocation of the left ankle. As a result of a faulty scaffold erected by an unlicenced scaffolder, the 'hop up' bracket tie bars were dislodged and the worker fell when the platform collapsed.
In the same year, a company was fined $45,000 after a worker fell from the second level of scaffolding whilst preparing a façade for rendering. The fall occurred because the 'hop up' bracket was removed and created a void that had been covered over by a piece of plywood. The fall resulted in the worker sustaining fractures to both arms.
- How to manage work health and safety risks Code of Practice 2011 (PDF, 1.02 MB)
- Managing the risk of falls at workplaces Code of Practice 2011 (PDF, 2.31 MB)
- Scaffolding Code of Practice 2021 (PDF, 1.63 MB)
- Steel construction Code of Practice 2004 (PDF, 1.12 MB)
- Suspended scaffold failure alert
- Obligations for guardrail systems
- Temporary Edge Protection - Part 1: General Requirements AS/NZS4994.1