In March 2018, a worker sustained serious spinal injuries as a result of falling approximately three metres through a void in formwork at a multi-storey construction site. Initial inquiries indicate the void was covered with fibrous cement sheeting which broke when the worker stood on it.
Investigations are continuing.
Preventing a similar incident
During the construction of multi-storey buildings, voids created by features such as stairwells must be covered to prevent workers falling through whilst in these areas.
Chapter 6 of the Work Health and Safety Regulations, Construction Work, states that when working at prescribed heights, certain control measures such as edge protection, travel restraint systems, fall protection covers or fall arrest platforms, must be used when there is a risk of a fall.
For internal voids, the most common form of control is the use of fall protection covers, also referred to as void protection covers. When used as a control, a fall protection cover must be able to withstand the impact of any person who may be reasonably expected to fall onto it to and to prevent a person from falling through the void. The fall protection cover must also be securely fixed in place to prevent it being moved. Always ensure the fall protection cover is suitable for its intended use and that it is setup and installed in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions.
Since 2012, there have been 259 accepted workers compensation claims associated with falls from height involving scaffolding or formwork. Sixty-four per cent of these claims resulted in a serious injury requiring five or more days off work.
During this same period, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland responded to 211 incidents specifically pertaining to workers falling through or from scaffolding (including scaffold stairs), formwork, or an associated void. Sixty-five per cent of these related to a serious injury which resulted in hospitalisation.
Since 2012, approximately 1,200 notices have been issued in relation to the risk of a fall from height associated with scaffolding (including scaffold stairs), formwork, or an associated void. This includes 659 prohibition notices, 525 improvement notices and 15 infringement notices.
Prosecutions and compliance
In 2017, a company was fined $40,000 after a rigger, who was assisting to unload roof trusses from a crane, fell through a void on the second storey of a residential housing construction site. Investigations revealed there was edge protection in place, but it had been removed the day before. Neither the rigger nor the crane operator were inducted to site or advised of the hazard of the unprotected void.
In 2017, another company was fined $65,000 after a carpenter fell through a stairwell void on the construction site. The worker and his supervisor were carrying a pre-fabricated wooden frame when he stepped backwards into the void, sustaining skull and spinal injuries.
- How to Manage Work Health and Safety Risks Code of Practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB)
- Formwork Code of Practice 2016 (PDF, 1.32 MB)
- Managing the risk of falls at workplaces code of practice 2021 (PDF, 3.9 MB)
- Work at heights, Construction - WHSQ guidance