The regulator for workplace safety in Victoria has set its sights on safe practices when working at height across the state’s construction industry.

In its latest announcement, WorkSafe Victoria said it had launched a statewide blitz to tackle unsafe work practices on building sites which could lead to falls from height.

Such practices can include incomplete scaffolds, inappropriate ladder use, steps, stairs and voids or falling through roofs.

Narelle Beer, Executive Director Health and Safety and WorkSafe Victoria, said that inspectors will be out in force and will be placing an extra emphasis on ensuring that employers are doing everything possible to prevent falls.

“As a leading cause of injury in the construction industry, falls from height is always a priority for our inspectors – but they will be making this a particular focus as they visit building sites over the coming weeks,” Dr Beer said.

“The safest way to prevent falls is to work on the ground. Where that’s not possible, employers should use the highest level of safety protection possible, such as complete scaffolding, guard railing and void covers.”

The latest push comes as falls from height continue to be a major cause of serious injury and fatality on building sites both in Victoria specifically and in Australia generally.

Last year, four Victorian construction workers died as a result of falls from height whilst a further 441 had accepted claims for workers compensation as a result of serious injuries that were sustained from such falls.

At this level, the industry accounted for almost half of the nine fatalities which occurred from working at height across all sectors and nearly one-third of the 1,352 serious injury claims that were accepted as a result of falls from height across all sectors.

This means that construction is the highest-risk industry of any sector in terms of falls from height injuries.

Of those construction workers who suffered working at height injures, more than one-third (160 fell from ladders.

Meanwhile, a further 46, 31, 27 and 13 fell from steps and stairways, buildings or structures, scaffolding, and openings in floors, walls or ceilings respectively.

The push also comes as unsafe working at height practices continue to be uncovered.

On February 8, Wattle Glen based builder Prosam Building Services was fined a total of $80,000 in the Melbourne Magistrate’s Court.

An inspection from WorkSafe at one of the company’s St Kilda building sites in June 2021 found that multiple workers were working on the second and third storey roofs without fall protection.

In particular, the investigation uncovered that:

  • One worker was found near an unguarded edge of the third storey roof that was approximately 10.5 meters high. The worker had been forced to access the roof via a scissor lift that required them to climb over the lift’s guardrails without any measures in place to prevent falling.
  • Other workers were accessing the third-storey addition via an internal extension ladder that extended through an opening. Despite the potential for a three-meter fall, there was no guardrail behind the opening and only a single top rail next to the opening.
  • Workers on the north face to the building were required to access the second storey by climbing over a short terrace wall without any edge protection.
  • No Safe Work Method Statement had been prepared in relation to any of the aforementioned tasks.

On February 15, meanwhile, roofing company D Buck Roofing had its fine increased more than fivefold from $7,500 to $40,000 on appeal in the County Court after a worker fell 4.2m through a gap in safety mesh while working on the roof of a building inspection at a Donnybrook school in August 2021.

The worker required 15 surgeries after suffering a broken fibula and tibula in his right leg and shattering his left heel bone.

A WorkSafe investigation found that the installation of safety mesh on the roof had been unfinished as the company had run out of material.

Meanwhile, guard railing around the roof’s perimeter was also incomplete.

According to WorkSafe, measures to prevent falls from heights (in order of priority) can include:

  • Eliminating the risk where practicable by doing all or some of the work on the ground or from a solid construction.
  • Using a passive fall prevention device such as scaffolds, perimeter screens, guardrails, safety mesh or elevating work platforms.
  • Using a positioning system, such as a travel-restraint system, to ensure employees work within a safe area.
  • Using a fall arrest system such as a harness, catch platform or safety nets, to limit the risk of injuries in the event of a fall.
  • Using a fixed or portable ladder or implementing administrative controls.

The safety blitz will be supported by falls prevention messaging across social media, newsletters and online.

This will remind employers and workers that falls can be fatal or cause life changing injuries.

(safety measures such as guardrails and harnesses can help to reduce risk when working at height.)

De Beer said the importance of safe practices when working at height should not be underestimated.

She said WorkSafe can and will take action against employers who fail to adopt adequate measures.

“A fall can happen in just seconds and it can turn your world upside down – so there’s no excuse for taking shortcuts when working at heights,” she said.


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