The regulator for workplace safety in Victoria has hit out at continual poor practices which are leading to serious injury and death when working at height.

In its latest announcement, WorkSafe Victoria said that poor practices associated with working at height are leading too many cases of preventable injury and fatality.

Since the beginning of 2018, 41 Victorian workers have died whilst a further 7,395 claims for workers compensation have been accepted as a result of falls from height.

This year alone, falls from height have led to 380 injuries and three deaths. These fatalities include a worker who died from head injuries after falling from the roof of a van, a jockey who died after falling from a horse and a worker who died after falling three metres at a school.

As a result, falls from height are one of the three main causes of workplace injury and fatality.

Moreover, cases of unacceptable practices continue to mount.

Last month, WorkSafe levelled industrial manslaughter charges against garlic bread manufacturer Risham Nominees, trading as Centenary Bakehouse, after a 53-year-old worker died at one of the company’s bakehouses in the northern Melbourne suburb of Reservoir.

The man had been removing suspended ceiling panels when he fell four meters onto a concrete floor.

WorkSafe alleged that the company had committed multiple breaches of safety laws and had not even prepared a Safe Work Method Statement.

In another case in March, electrical services company Sentenal Technologies Pty Ltd was convicted and fined $32,000 after a WorkSafe inspector saw five workers on the roof of a Corio warehouse without harnesses or edge protection.

Moreover, the personal cost associated with falls-from-height injury should not be underestimated.

Consider the case of John (last name not given) – a building supervisor who worked for a company that rectified buildings that had suffered fire or water damage.

In 2006, he ruptured is lower spine and fractured his neck after falling through the second-storey floor of a building on which he was working together with a carpenter after a board on which he was standing became loose.

Whilst still being able to walk, John is no longer able to work.

Not long after the accident, he suffered a mental breakdown and now battles with anxiety.

In a video posted on the WorkSafe web site, John’s wife Pat describes how his whole person changed.

Prior to the accident, John’s work ethic was exceptional and he would get in and get done what needed to be done.

Following the accident, John was not volatile with Pat or his boys but was angry about the opportunities regarding which he had been robbed.

“John’s accident turned our whole world upside down,” Pat said in the video below.

“It absolutely destroyed him and it wasn’t long after that he actually had a mental breakdown. The person that John is today, is not the person he was before the accident.”

According to WorkSafe, over the past five years in Victoria:

  • By industry, construction work has been the leading cause of injury and death regarding falls from heights, accounting for around a third (2,168) of the 7,395 cases of accepted injury claims and almost half (20) of the 41 deaths. This includes three falls each from or through roofs, through stairwell voids, from ladders and from scaffolding.
  • Other affected industries include transport, postal and warehousing (652 accepted injury claims), manufacturing (623 claims), arts and recreation services (623), health care and social assistance (483), education and training (413), wholesale trade (393) and retail (377).
  • Across all industries, steps and stairways accounted for a quarter of all accepted fall injury claims (1,792), followed closely by ladders (1,664). Other common injury mechanisms include from horses (479 injured) and from trucks, semitrailers and lorries (four deaths/378 injuries).
  • Falls can also happen in the office. All up, 268 office workers have been seriously injured falling from chairs or furniture since 2018. This includes a worker seriously injured when they fell while standing on a table to take a group photo.

To prevent falls from height, WorkSafe says employers should:

  • Eliminate the risk by, where practicable, doing all or some of the work on the ground or from a solid construction.
  • Use a passive fall prevention device such as scaffolds, perimeter screens, guardrails, safety mesh or elevating work platforms.
  • Use a positioning system, such as a travel-restraint system, to ensure employees work within a safe area.
  • Use 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.
  • Use a fixed or portable ladder or implement administrative controls.

WorkSafe Executive Director Health and Safety Dr Narelle Beer expressed frustration about the number of injuries and fatalities which are occurring a result of poor practices.

Beer says that safety is critical even for tasks which appear to be relatively simple. Taking shortcuts when performing such tasks may lead to falls that can have devastating consequences.

“A fall can happen in just seconds but the consequences can last a lifetime, including devastating injuries and loss of life,” Beer said.

“Yet despite the well-known risks, we still see things like workers on a roof without fall protection, harnesses not attached to an anchor point, poorly installed scaffolding, platforms without guard rails, unprotected voids and unsafe ladders.”


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