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Dangerous falling object incidents in construction

In December 2021, a worker suffered a badly broken arm and puncture wounds to his shoulder after being struck by part of a retractable awning system that fell. Initial enquiries indicate he was a member of a team installing the system, when it appears part of the retractable awning dislodged from the building and fell on him.

In January 2022, a piece of aluminium fell from the 17th floor of a high-rise construction site, landing on the roof of a building across the road. It was part of the building’s window system. It appears, the piece of aluminium became jammed and a worker used a pinch bar to release it. As a result, the aluminium piece came out of the end of the window, striking a column and falling out of the building.

In a third incident last month, a tile fell from the 50th floor of a high-rise construction site onto the 7th floor pool level. Early investigations indicate a worker had placed the tile against a unit’s balcony balustrade when for reasons yet to be established, it slipped through a gap between the balustrade and the balcony edge landing in the pool area below. Fortunately, the pool area was part of an exclusion zone at the time of the incident. However, unit balconies directly below the 50th floor were still accessible.

Luckily, no one was injured in the two most recent incidents.

Investigations into these matters are continuing.

Safety issues

Falling objects have the potential to land on or hit people at the workplace or adjoining areas if precautions are not taken. Adjoining areas could include public footpaths, roads, or yards/spaces of properties next to a workplace.

Source: Safe Work Australia – Falling objects fact sheet

Even small objects, for example; bolts and concrete aggregate, falling from a height can cause serious injury.

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 Regulation) requires people running a business or undertaking (PCBU) to manage risks to health and safety associated with an object falling. The control measures that are implemented should firstly aim to prevent objects from falling, but equally prevent injury if an object has fallen. Controls should be applied at the source to prevent objects from falling to eliminate the risk. This is the most effective control to prevent injury or death caused by falling objects.

Effective control measures are often made up of a combination of controls. Examples of common risk control measures can include, but are not limited to:

  • using perimeter containment screening to prevent objects form falling, where practicable (this is mandated by the Regulation for dome situations) using barriers and signs to cordon off areas where there is a risk of being hit by falling objects
  • using catch platforms, overhead gantries and safety nets, where practicable
  • workers using tool and material lanyards, that will safely arrest an object falling, when working at height.

Develop a safe system of work for managing the risk of falling objects. This could include, but is not limited to:

  • clear signs warning people not to access the hazardous area. They can be used to highlight areas where work is being carried out overhead and there is a risk of falling objects. See Figure 1.

No go area sign

Figure 1: No go area sign
Source: Managing the risk of falls at workplaces code of practice 2021

  • providing supervision of exclusion zones so no unauthorised people enter
  • developing safe work procedures that describe the task, identify the hazards and document how the task is to be performed to minimise any risks associated with falling objects. Consider the proximity of workers to unsafe areas where loads are placed on elevated working areas and where work is being done above people and there is a risk of falling objects If high risk construction work is to be carried out, the WHS Regulation 2011 requires a safe work method statement (SWMS) is prepared.
  • providing information, training and instruction to workers and others at the workplace advising them of the exclusion zones in place
  • organising and sequencing of work tasks - you can sequence jobs so different trades are not working above or below each other at the same time
  • consider seeking advice from technical specialists like structural engineers to check the stability or load-bearing capacity of structures
  • consulting, cooperating and coordinating activities with other duty holders. There is often more than one business or undertaking at a workplace and each may have responsibility for the same health and safety matters, either because they are involved in the same activities or share the same workplace. In these situations, each duty holder should exchange information to find out who is doing what and work together in a cooperative and coordinated way so risks are eliminated or minimised so far as is reasonably practicable.
  • PCBU’s must also consult with workers whose health and safety is likely to be affected (consultation must be regular and ongoing).

Depending on the task, any remaining risk must be minimised with suitable personal protective equipment. For example; hard hats; gloves; protective footwear; eye protection; high visibility clothing.

The control measures put in place should be reviewed regularly to make sure they work as planned.

More information

Support for people affected by a serious workplace incident

For advice and support: