New South Wales Minister for Work, Health and Safety Sophie Cotsis has unveiled a twelve-month campaign to improve work at height practices around the state.

The announcement comes after District Court Judge David Russell raised alarm in February at the number of cases that are coming through to the court which involve falls from height.

Those comments came as Russell issued a judgement in which plumbing, roofing, maintenance and height safety services contractor Parish Group was fined $300,000 over an incident in 2021 in which a worker fell six meters from an inadequately protected penetration in a roof that was being erected at a construction site in Kembla Grange near Wollongong.

The worker suffered injuries including a right foot fracture and dislocation, a left shoulder dislocation and an L5 vertebral compression fracture.

In his judgment, Russell lamented about the number of cases of falls from height which the court had observed in recent years and requested that SafeWork NSW send a copy of the judgement to the Minister with responsibility for workplace safety who holds office in the next (now current) Government (the current Labor Government was elected in March).

The campaign also comes amid growing concern over poor practices which are leading to injury and fatality as a result of falls from height.

In Victoria, the safety regulator recently hit out at poor practices after revealing that more than 7,000 workers in that state had been injured and 41 workers had died (across all industries) throughout that state as a result of falls from height over the past five years.

In New South Wales, falls from heights accounts for more than half of all injuries in construction and 44 percent of construction worker claims for workers compensation.

Between 2018 and 2022, sixteen of the state’s construction workers died as a result of falls from heights.

As part of its campaign, SafeWork inspectors will visit construction sites across the state without notice.

Employers who are found to have unsafe practices may be subject to fines, stop-work orders or prosecution.

Inspectors will also educate employers and workers about safe height practices.

As outlined on the SafeWork NSW web site, these can include:

  • working on the ground or on solid platforms where possible
  • using fall-prevention devices, such as temporary work platforms, guardrails and scaffolding
  • using work-positioning systems such as restraint systems or industrial rope access to ensure that employees work within a safe area
  • using fall-arrest systems such as safety nets, catch platforms or harnesses with lifelines or individual anchors; and
  • using fixed or portable ladders or using administrative controls.

Under the Work, Health and Safety Act 2011, contractors and builders have a responsibility to take all reasonably practicable action to protect workers from injuries resulting from falls from height as well as other workplace hazards.

This includes identifying potential hazards, taking action to control these and providing workers with training and safety equipment.

For those needing help, support is available.

Businesses who have fewer than 50 workers can book a workplace visit with a SafeWork inspector to identify risks and how to manage them.

Safety information, which can be translated into a number of languages including Chinese, Greek and Arabic, can also be found on the SafeWork NSW website.

Concerned workers can report workplace health and safety issues by calling SafeWork NSW on 13 10 50 or through the Speak Up app.

Cotsis says there is no excuse for poor practices.

“As I have received incoming briefs and information I have read of horrific injuries and deaths in NSW workplaces,” Cotsis said.

“A fall from as little as two metres can cause catastrophic injury or even death.

“My message is this: expect an unannounced visit from an inspector who will throw the book at anyone breaking the law.

“There is zero-tolerance for putting worker safety at risk. The Government together with employers and unions have an important role to play to better protect workers.

“We have to end this “she’ll be right mate” mentality.

“Falls from heights are completely preventable with tried and tested measures such as using roof guard rails, harnesses and covering voids. There is no excuse.”