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Fatal fall from height while working on air conditioning system

In August, a man died after falling approximately 6 metres (m) while working on an air conditioning system at a civic centre. It's believed he may have fallen from a ladder.

Investigations are continuing.

Preventing a similar incident

Falls are a major cause of death and serious injury at workplaces. The risk of falling is common in construction but may also occur during many other work activities. Work involving ladders often leads to falls because of ladder stability, moving on or off the ladder, and the type of work itself.

The risk of serious injury from a fall is largely dependent on the height but also the surface below (e.g. working on a roof near an unprotected edge or performing installation work from a ladder). Although a risk management approach must be used to manage the risks of falls from heights, there are several regulatory provisions that persons conducting a business or undertaking must comply with in different workplaces.

All workplaces

  • Part 4.4 of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 - Falls and the Managing the risk of falls at workplaces code of practice 2021

Construction work

  • Section 299(1) of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 requires that before high risk construction work commences a safe work method statement for the proposed work must be prepared if the -
    • Construction work involves a risk of a person falling more than 2m
    • Subdivisions 2 and 3 of Chapter 6 of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 give specific requirements to control the risks of falls, the use of ladders and platforms supported by ladders used during construction work

Hazards associated with working at height that involve a risk of falling must be identified. Health and safety risks must be managed to eliminate dangers. However, if it's not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk, then it should be minimised using the hierarchy of controls. This can be achieved by doing one or more of the following:

  • substituting the hazard causing the risk with something of lesser risk (e.g. using an elevating work platform so workers can avoid standing on a ladder to perform the task). Where regular access is required, consider fixed access systems such as stairways and platforms.
  • implementing engineering controls - for example, a travel restraint or fall-arrest system with adequate anchorage points. The installation of physical barriers (e.g. guard rails) along open edges of the roof (if working on the roof).

Any remaining risk must then be minimised by using administrative controls. For example:

  • implementing a safe system of work that considers:
    • the design
    • condition and layout of elevated work areas, including the distance of a potential fall and the load rating of the structure (e.g. ladders)
    • correct setup, stability and security of ladders
    • only light duty work is undertaken while on ladders, where three points of contact can by maintained and tools can be operated safely with one hand.
  • implementing safe systems for a travel restraint or fall-arrest system including the provision of adequate training, instruction and supervision in how to use them and in the emergency and rescue procedure should someone fall
  • the adequacy of current knowledge and training to perform the task safely (young, new or inexperienced workers may be unfamiliar with a task).

If a risk remains, it must be minimised so far as reasonably practicable by using personal protective equipment (PPE). For example, non-slip footwear.


Each year since 2012 there have been over 3,000 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.

Between 2013 and March 2019, WHSQ has issued 1,725 prohibition notices, 1,189 improvement notices 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 after a young apprentice fell almost 4m from a roof while trying to retrieve a circular saw which was at risk of falling itself. The apprentice struck a concrete wall before landing on the ground sustaining 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 almost 5m, fracturing his hip socket and wrist.

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