Electrical worker fatality
In February 2022, an electrical worker died in a home ceiling space. It’s believed he was working on the air conditioning system at the time.
Investigations are continuing.
These findings are not yet confirmed, and investigations are continuing into the exact cause.
There are risks of serious injury or fatality when working in ceiling spaces. It’s important to understand and manage the risks before entering a ceiling space.
In most buildings, much of the electrical wiring for lights, socket outlets, air-conditioning and other electrical equipment runs through the ceiling space. Anyone who enters the space is at risk of electric shock.
Other risks associated with working in ceiling spaces include:
- the risk of falling from height
- excessive heat
- biological hazards such as vermin, insects and moulds.
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 both the Electrical Safety Act 2002 and the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 depending on the associated risk.
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
For employers or business owners, it’s your duty to manage electrical risks as outlined in the Work Health and Safety legislation. You also have responsibilities under the Electrical Safety Act 2002.
As a worker, you must take reasonable care for your own electrical safety and not adversely affect the electrical safety of others. You must comply with any reasonable instruction and cooperate with any reasonable policy relating to electrical safety at your place of work. If your employer provides you with equipment to do a job, you must use it in accordance with the information, instruction and training provided on its use.
Effective control measures for work in ceiling spaces are often made up of a combination of controls. A safe system of work for managing the risk of working in ceiling spaces should include the following.
Turning the power off
Before entering a ceiling space:
- turn the power off at the main switchboard and either tape or label it to stop it being turned back on by someone else while you're in the ceiling. Some electrical equipment such as hot water systems or stoves may have a separate switch. It’s safest to turn off all the switches and circuit breakers at the main switchboard.
- complete a pre-work risk assessment of the roof cavity by looking around the ceiling space to identify any hazards that may pose risks. These may include for example:
- high temperatures
- type of insulation material (also check insulation material isn’t covering any electrical fittings or equipment, especially down lights)
- accessibility to the work area (like cramped and awkward positions)
- location of electrical cables, fittings and equipment, water or gas piping
- possible presence of dangerous wildlife such as snakes
- even with the power off, ensure contact with electrical cables and equipment is avoided as some cables, such as consumer service lines, may still be live. Also check for solar PV systems which may have DC supply cables that are live during daylight.
turning off electricity to the property at the main switchboard does not turn off the electricity supply from the street to the switchboard. This means the incoming overhead service lines and the cables supplying the switchboard will still be live. Extreme care must be taken to avoid touching any of these live overhead electrical lines or supply cables.
When performing work activities in ceiling spaces
Considerations to be made when carrying out work in ceiling spaces include:
- ensuring someone is aware of where you are and contact with them is maintained until work is completed
- having a rescue plan and ensuring the safety observer is aware of it
- being aware heat and humidity may cause heat stress, so make sure fluid intake is sufficient to ensure you do not become dehydrated (consider doing that work during cooler times of the day)
- additional lighting (torch) with you as it is generally dark in ceiling spaces
- taking care moving around the work area, avoiding tripping over debris, material and the ceiling trusses
- step carefully on ceiling joists or other beams – not the ceiling material (Gyprock sheeting) – to avoid risk of falling or injury
- using/providing appropriate tools (preferably manual or battery-operated)
- being aware of the location of electrical cables, fittings and equipment and avoid contact with them
- ensuring you do not damage any electrical cables or electrical equipment
- wearing appropriate, well maintained and correctly fitted personal protective equipment when working in dusty ceiling spaces, including:
- a half-face (class P1 or P2) disposable particulate respirator, in accordance with AS/NZS 1715:2009 Selection, use and maintenance of respiratory protective equipment
- a head-covering and goggles to avoid eye irritation
- long-sleeved, loose-fitting clothing and gloves to minimise skin contact with insulation material
- appropriate footwear.
- keeping your work areas clean and clear of fibres and dust (place waste in appropriate plastic bags).
When working in a ceiling is finished
After the work’s done, ensure that:
- any insulation material that may have moved during work is replaced - make sure it’s clear of any electrical fittings or equipment, especially downlights
- you appropriately dispose of debris and waste
- your hands, face, neck and hair are washed with soap and water.
Consultation is a collaborative process between the PCBU and workers. It involves sharing information about health and safety. PCBU’s should:
- consult with workers and others involved in the work to obtain feedback on work processes and safe work procedures
- identify that young workers have a unique risk profile that can impact on their health and safety at work.
Information, training and instruction
- develop safe work practices and procedures and ensuring they are followed; safe work method statements (SWMS) are developed where required; and appropriately trained and qualified people are authorised to carry out the work
- ensure that workers carrying out particular work are trained on any electrical and other risks specific to the work, as appropriate
- ensure workers know what to do in the event of an emergency.
Control measures should be regularly reviewed. If necessary, revise your measures so they work as planned and are as effective as possible. The aim is to maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a work environment that is without risks to health and safety.
- Managing risks of plant in the workplace code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.57 MB)
- How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB)
- Confined spaces code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.43 MB)
- Ceiling spaces
- Stay safer up there, switch off down here
- The Dale Kennedy story - film
Support for people affected by a serious workplace incident
For advice and support: