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Young construction worker impaled by crowbar

In October 2023, a student undertaking a school-based construction certificate course was seriously injured when they fell onto a crowbar at a construction site. The crowbar had a chisel tip at one end and a pointed tip at the opposite end.

Safety issues

Workers aged from 15 to 24 years make up about 18 per cent of the Queensland workforce. Around 4400 young workers are seriously injured at work in the state each year and can include:

  • people leaving school and entering full-time employment for the first time, including apprentices and trainees
  • people engaged in part-time or casual employment
  • people who work but are not paid for the work done, such as unpaid work done for a family business (excluding domestic chores)
  • work experience students and vocational education and training students who are still attached to the education and training system.

Some of the causes of injuries that young workers may be more vulnerable to include:

  • operating plant and machinery
  • using hand tools and knives
  • manual handling
  • contact with electricity
  • working on or around vehicles and quad bikes
  • working at heights
  • workplace violence or bullying.

Young workers have a unique risk profile which means:

  • they may not perceive when something becomes unsafe
  • it isn't effective to rely on them to ask questions or speak up with concerns
  • it is important to understand the factors that can impact their health and safety.

Ways to manage health and safety

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

Manual excavation methods are sometimes used for small, shallow (less than 1.5 metres) excavations in soft soils. In these instances, PCBUs must manage the risks from hazardous manual tasks as well as falls. Control measures can include but are not limited to:

  • using earthmoving plant to excavate while maintaining exclusion zones so that workers stay away from the plant
  • where crowbars are used as part of the digging process, preferably use crowbars that have a flat head at the top end (these are sometimes known as fencing crow bars)
  • inserting edge protection on the ground next to the supported excavation side
  • providing alternative access and egress points to the excavation for emergency use
  • backfilling the excavation as work progresses
  • keeping workers sufficiently far apart to prevent injury from the use of picks or other hand tools.

Any remaining risk must be further minimised with suitable personal protective equipment (PPE). For example, hard hats, protective footwear, eye protection and hearing protection.

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

Young workers

When selecting the best way to control exposure to the risks for young workers, PCBUs should follow the risk management process set out in the How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB).

PCBUs must also ensure the work environment, and the way young employees do their job, is safe and healthy, regardless of the type and terms of their employment. Communication by PCBUs is important to ensure there is a positive understanding by young workers of the hazards, risks and controls with good monitoring and supervision then confirms the risks are being managed appropriately.

Employers of young workers should:

  • understand their risk profile
  • ensure a safe and healthy workplace
  • provide information, training, instruction, and supervision
  • develop a positive workplace culture.

Consider the tasks you give to new and young workers given their skills, abilities, and experience. Before a young person begins work, a PCBU should:

  • identify the gaps in the worker's knowledge and assess their ability to work safely (competency should be tested)
  • not accept a young worker's assurance that he or she is experienced and competent.

It's important for young workers to actively participate in the way work health and safety is managed. This means taking induction and training seriously, using the risk management process for work tasks, and asking for help before starting a task they're not familiar with or comfortable carrying out. Young workers should have an understanding of workplace risks particularly the tasks being undertaken and how these risks are controlled.

More information

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

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