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Serious injuries following fall from yacht

In August 2020, a worker suffered serious injuries after falling approximately 2.5 metres from the rear of a large yacht docked on a hardstand at a marine maintenance facility.

Early investigations indicate the worker was doing maintenance at the time.

Investigations are continuing.

Preventing a similar incident

People accessing and working on vessels on hardstands can be exposed to serious risks of falls. Typical edge protection on many types of vessels (e.g. the gunwales and handrails) are not usually designed the same as land-based situations where guard rails are used to control the risk of a fall. For example, the height of the top rail or gunwale is often less than the minimum height of 900mm commonly specified for edge protection.

Persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) responsible for the operation of the marina facilities, should ensure suitable equipment is available for safe access to vessels and to control the risk of a fall from them. This duty also applies to other PCBUs that perform work within the marine facility. Suitable equipment may include portable platform step ladders or purpose designed portable stair systems, scaffolding or temporary edge protection systems.

Marine facility operators will likely share responsibility for health and safety matters with other businesses within the facility. In these situations, PCBUs must determine who holds the relevant obligations and work together with other duty holders in a consultative, co-operative and co-ordinated way to eliminate or minimise risks so far as is reasonably practicable. PCBUs should also ensure people who access or work on marine vessels on hardstands understand the associated risks and only use the appropriate equipment provided. Access equipment should only be used in accordance with the instructions for their use.

Effective risk management starts with a commitment to health and safety from those who operate and manage the business. Managing work health and safety risks associated with falls is an ongoing process and involves four steps; the identification of hazards, assessing risks, controlling risks, and reviewing control measures to ensure they are working.

Before accessing or working on marine vessels on hardstands, a competent person should perform a risk assessment to identify areas where there is a risk of a fall. Particular focus should be placed on identifying the location and type of work to be done and the length of time and frequency of access required to and from the vessel. This must be done in consultation with those performing the work. Once the risks associated with each fall hazard have been assessed, the next step is to control risks associated with falls. These control measures are ranked from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest and are known as the hierarchy of control.

Following the hierarchy of control, you must always aim first to eliminate the hazards associated with falls. If it’s not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk, then the risk should be minimised using one or a combination of the following:

Engineering controls

Fall prevention devices include any equipment designed to prevent a fall for temporary work at heights and access to work areas. Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • scaffolding - there are specific requirements for scaffolding under the WHS Regulation 2011
  • elevating work platforms (EWP) - can be considered an engineering control measure and the EWP must be assessed to determine whether it is the most suitable for the task. The safe operation of EWPs also relies on safe work procedures (i.e. administrative controls), which includes ensuring operators hold the relevant High Risk Work Licence HRWL (where required) to operate the EWP.
  • physical barriers - (e.g. perimeter guard rails or edge protection systems) installed at the edges of walkways, stairways, ramps and landings.
  • a travel restraint system - is a combination of an engineering control (system design), administrative control and personal protective equipment (i.e. the tethering lines and harness).
  • portable platform step ladders (step platforms) – these incorporate a platform with a guardrail where an employee can stand and use both hands to work. While the work should only be light duty, this is a preferred option to other types of portable ladders.
  • portable ladders- these should only be used for light work of short duration where three points of contact with the ladder can be maintained. Portable ladders should only be used where the use of safer systems is not reasonably practicable. Where single and extension ladders are used to gain access onto a vessel, the ladder should be adequately secured in place.

Equipment should be regularly inspected and maintained according to the manufacturer’s instructions. When a defect is identified, the component or equipment should be taken out of service until it has been replaced or repaired.

Administrative controls

These may be used to support other control measures and may include:

  • implementing a safe system of work that considers:
    • condition and layout of elevated work areas, including the distance of a potential fall
    • the load rating of the structure or equipment (e.g. ladders)
    • correct set up, stability and security of ladders and temporary work platforms
    • clear signage warning people not to access a hazardous area. Relevant information and instruction should be provided about ‘no go’ areas with adequate supervision to ensure no unauthorised worker enters the zone. Barriers should be used in conjunction with signs to cordon-off areas where there is a risk of falling. They should be highly visible and securely fixed to prevent displacement.
    • keeping areas tidy and free from excess items and debris or substances that can cause slips and trips.
  • requiring permits for access to areas where travel restraint systems or fall-arrest systems are to be used.
  • organising and sequencing of work tasks - you can sequence jobs so that different trades are not working above or below each other at the same time
  • safe work procedures that describe the steps involved in safely undertaking a task. It may also include any particular information, instruction and training to workers in addition to a level of supervision.
  • the adequacy of current knowledge and training of workers to perform the task safely (young, new or inexperienced workers may be unfamiliar with a task).

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

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

  • Fall arrest systems are primarily a form of personal protective equipment but also rely on engineering controls (i.e. anchorage point strength, harness and lanyard design) and administrative controls (e.g. making sure the lanyard is connected and not too long).
  • Non-slip footwear.

Note: Administrative control measures and PPE rely on human behaviour and supervision, and used on their own, tend to be least effective in minimising risks.

Some risk control measures cannot be simply categorised under only one of the hierarchy of control categories above. Similarly, effective control measures are often made up of a combination of controls.

More information

Support for people affected by a serious workplace incident

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