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Person falls from tank

In November 2020, a man sustained serious head injuries after falling from a water tank that had just been put in place by a vehicle loading crane. It appears he was standing on the tank close to the crane.

Preventing a similar incident

Falls are a major cause of death and serious injury. The risk of falling is common in construction, but may also occur during many other work activities.

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). A risk management approach must be used to manage the risks of falls from heights.

Managing work health and safety risks is an ongoing process.

Risk management involves four steps:

  1. identify the hazard – find out what could cause harm
  2. assess the risk – understand the nature of the harm that could be caused by the hazard, how serious the harm could be and the likelihood of it happening
  3. control the risk – implement the most effective control measure reasonably practicable in the circumstances
  4. review risk controls – asses control measures to ensure they are working as planned.

Once the risks have been assessed, the next step is to implement control measures to manage the risks associated with working at height.

Effective control measures are often made up of a combination of controls.

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:

Substitution controls

Substituting the hazard 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.

Engineering controls

This involves changing physical characteristics of the plant and/or system of work to reduce the risk. Examples may include:

  • gauges and inspection points accessible from the ground
  • ensuring appropriate auxiliary plant is used in the correct manner
    • e.g. sling arrangement to lift the structure
  • integrated guardrails providing physical fall protection.

Administrative controls

This includes information, training, instruction or supervision necessary to control the risks associated with plant. All operating manuals and instructional material provided by the manufacturer showing how to correctly operate and maintain the plant should be kept and followed. Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • implementing a safe system of work that considers:
    • the design of the plant
    • condition and layout of elevated work areas, including the distance of a potential fall, slope, grip, undulations, obstacles and the load rating of the structure
    • correct setup, stability and security of ladders
    • only light duty work is done while on ladders, where three points of contact can be maintained, and tools operated safely with one hand
    • the proximity of other plant such as cranes.
  • implementing safe systems for a travel restraint or fall-arrest system, which includes adequate training, instruction and supervision on how to use them, as well as 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)
  • safe work procedures that include but are not limited to instructions on:
    • how to safely access the plant.
    • how to carry out inspections, shut-down, cleaning, repair and maintenance, and emergency procedures
    • how to install, commission, decommission, remove and dispose of the plant.
  • training programs should be practical and ‘hands on’ and consider the particular needs of workers like literacy levels, work experience and specific skills required for safe use of the plant
  • ensuring worker training, experience and competency aligns with the requirements and complexity of the task.

Personal protective equipment (PPE)

Any remaining risk must be minimised with suitable personal protective equipment. For example:

  • the use of hard hats, steel cap boots and high visibility vests
  • safety footwear should be:
    • suitable for the type of work and environment
    • comfortable with an adequate non-slip sole and appropriate tread
    • checked regularly to ensure treads are not worn away or clogged with contaminants.

Administrative control measures and PPE rely on human behaviour and supervision, and used on their own, tend to be least effective in minimising risks. The control measures you put in place should be reviewed regularly to make sure they work as planned.

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.

More information

Have you been affected by a workplace fatality, illness or serious injury?

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