In June 2021, a worker suffered serious facial and rib injuries when he fell 3.3 metres from a second story sub-floor level to the first story sub-floor level at a construction site. Early enquiries indicate he was attempting to fix a sheet of bracing plywood to a timber frame. It appears he constructed an improvised scaffold and placed it over a void to gain access to the frame, but then fell from it.
These findings are not yet confirmed and investigations are continuing into the exact cause.
Fall hazards are found in many workplaces where work is carried out at height including the construction of multi-storey buildings where voids are created by features such as stairwells.
Before commencing work, you must identify all locations and tasks that could create fall risks, including access to the areas where work is to be carried out. Key things to look for include but are not limited to:
- edges—open edges of floors, working platforms, walkways, walls
- holes and openings
- levels—where levels change and workers may be exposed to a fall from one level to another
- the ground—the evenness and stability of the ground for safe support of a scaffold or work platform.
Ways to manage health and safety
Taking steps to manage risks is a condition of doing business in Queensland. Effective risk management starts with a commitment to health and safety from those who manage the business. If an incident occurs, you'll need to show the regulator that you’ve used an effective risk management process. This responsibility is covered by your primary duty of care in the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.
Use the hierarchy of controls to help decide how to eliminate and reduce risks in your place of work. The hierarchy of controls ranks types of control methods from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest. It’s a step-by-step approach to eliminating or reducing risks. You must work through the hierarchy of controls when managing risks, with the aim of eliminating the hazard, which is the most effective control.
Possible control measures to prevent similar incidents
The Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 (the WHS Regulation) requires specific fall risk control measures to be implemented, where it is reasonably practicable to do so. For example:
- if the work is construction work, then Chapter 6 of the WHS Regulation applies
- if the work meets the definition of high-risk construction work (e.g. construction work that involves a risk of a person falling more than two metres) then a safe work method statement must be prepared. Further regulations would also then apply (for e.g. Part 6.3 Sub-division 2 “Falls” which provides prescriptive control measures).
You must consider various control options and choose the control that most effectively eliminates or minimises the risk in the circumstances. This may involve a single control measure or a combination of different controls that provide the highest level of protection. These can include but are not limited to the following examples:
- Fall protection covers—also referred to as void protection covers. A fall protection cover must be able to withstand the impact of any person who could fall onto it to and prevent them 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.
- Barriers used to prevent a person falling over edges and into holes must be provided on relevant parts of a solid construction. The barrier must be designed and constructed to withstand the force of someone falling against it. These include:
- the perimeters of buildings or other structures
- openings in floors the open edge of a stair, landing, platform or shaft opening.
- Temporary work platforms—used to provide a working area for the duration of the work and designed to prevent workers from falling. Examples of temporary work platforms include but not limited to scaffolds, elevating work platforms (EWPs), workboxes.
- Work positioning systems—which enables a person to work supported in a harness in such a way that a fall is prevented. The use of work positioning systems must only be considered if it is not reasonably practicable to carry out work on the ground or on a solid construction as a high level of competency is required for their safe use.
- Administrative controls may be used to support other control measures and may include:
- ‘no go’ areas—these require clear signs warning people not to access the hazardous area. Information and instruction should be provided about no go areas, with supervision to ensure that no unauthorised worker enters the no go area.
- permit systems—allow only competent people trained in the use of relevant control measures to work in an area where there is a hazard. For example, tagging access points to a scaffold with ‘only licensed scaffolders permitted on an incomplete scaffold’ to restrict unauthorised access during erection and dismantling.
You must not use administrative controls exclusively to minimise the risk of falls unless it is not reasonably practicable to use a higher order control.
Note: Any administrative control measures 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 monitored and reviewed regularly to make sure they work as planned.
- Managing the risk of falls at workplaces code of practice 2021 (PDF, 3.9 MB)
- Scaffolding Code of Practice 2021
- How to manage work health and safety risks Code of Practice 2011 (PDF, 1.02 MB)
- Work at heights – Construction
Support for people affected by a serious workplace incident
For advice and support: