How to Prevent Serious Injury Due to Falls

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Monday, November 17th, 2014
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Are you covered for the five main causes of injury on a construction site?

It’s not just the weather that heats up at Christmas time. So too does the construction industry as it enters one of its busiest periods and workers are often placed under pressure to get jobs completed before the end of year shut-down.

Following the six-week blitz by WorkCover in March, a new safety program is attempting to prevent another major incident like Barangaroo in the lead-up to Christmas.

As Barangaroo illustrated, major incidents in the commercial construction industry not only have the potential to cause serious injury and death, but also bring the city to a standstill.

Over the two-year period from June 2011 to July 2013, approximately 1,800 construction industry workers were injured or contracted an occupational disease at a cost of $33 million to the NSW workers compensation scheme.

During the March safety blitz, WorkCover visited 369 construction sites with inspectors issuing 10 prohibition notices and 97 improvement notices.

The five main causes of injury in the commercial construction industry are:

  • Falls from height
  • Falls on the same level
  • Being hit by moving objects
  • Being hit by falling objects
  • Electric shock

Each time a workers compensation claim is made, employers can expect to see a correlating rise in the insurance premiums they are expected to pay, and they could also face fines. It is far more cost effective to strive for a clear safety record.

It is crucial to have a working fall prevention plan in place. To avoid the top cause of injury – falling from height – take the following steps:

1. Determine what responsibilities everyone has for managing fall prevention.

2. Identify all tasks that involve the possibility of someone falling more than two metres. Tasks may include:

  • construction, demolition, repairs or maintenance on any plant or structure
  • work on fragile or unstable surfaces
  • the need for equipment to gain access
  • work on sloping or slippery surfaces
  • work near an edge, hole, pit or shaft.

3, Stay up to date with the state of knowledge about fall hazards

4. Assess the risks and situations where someone may fall from height

For each task identified, determine whether there is a risk of a fall from height and consider the circumstances that may increase the risk of a fall.

5. Identify the safety measures required to prevent a fall or minimise the risk

Can all or some of the work be done from the ground or a solid construction? Can fall prevention devices, such as elevated work platforms, fixed work platforms, cherry pickers, step platforms, scaffolding, guard railings, or safety mesh be used? Can safety nets and harnesses be used?

6. Implement fall prevention measures

Where a risk of a person falling from height is determined, you must implement measures that control the risk as far as is reasonably practicable. This requirement includes providing adequate instruction, information and training to staff. It’s the simple things that can catch you out: such as ensuring the harness is adequate for the fall. If the fall distance is 1.5 metres, yet the harness is two metres, it won’t do any good!

7. Ensure timely emergency procedures are in place

Emergency procedures must be in place where physical fall prevention devices are being used. The procedures must enable the rescue of an employee in the event of a fall and ensure first aid is provided to an employee that has fallen as soon as possible after the emergency situation arises.

Fast emergency response is vital as a worker may survive a fall only to die of suspension trauma or orthostatic intolerance, a natural human reaction to being upright and immobile. A complex combination of blood pooling in the legs and cardiorespiratory restriction leads to unconsciousness.

Harnesses can become deadly whenever a worker is suspended for a duration of over five minutes in an upright posture, with the legs relaxed straight beneath the body.  A carpenter working alone is caught in mid-fall by his safety harness, only to die 15 minutes later from suspension trauma. An electrical worker is lowered into a shaft after testing for toxic gases. He is lowered on a cable and is positioned at the right level to repair a junction box. After five minutes he is unconscious, but his buddies tending the line don’t realise it, and 15 minutes later a dead body is hauled out.

Emergency response is typically 20 minutes away in an urban environment. So if suspension trauma can impact within 15 minutes, it is vital your emergency procedures are timely, optimal and efficient.

8. Ensure any plant being used is designed and constructed for the task at hand and that it can be used safely. Ensure fall prevention devices used by workers are properly maintained and used as prescribed.

9. Check risk assessments and safety measures at every site and as the situation requires.

Conditions, equipment, tasks and personnel can change from site to site and while a task is being undertaken. Checks must be undertaken to ensure work can be undertaken safely at all times.

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