In the construction industry, workers are often expected to conduct their duties at great heights. It therefore becomes vital that measures are taken to ensure that these individuals are operating in a safe working environment. In Western Australia legislation has been around for many years to address this issue specifically, namely the Code of Practice: Prevention of Falls at the Workplace. The latest revised version of this Code, released in 2004, states that the code is:
…intended to provide practical guidance on meeting the requirements in the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 and Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 1996 relating to prevention of falls at the workplace, including those that came into operation from 1 July 2001.
In addition, this Code of Practice takes care in describing who should make use of it stating:
This code should be used by everyone who has a duty to prevent, as far as practicable, falls at workplaces. This includes employers, employees, self-employed people, architects, engineers, designers, builders, manufacturers, suppliers, safety and health representatives and safety and health committees.
It is interesting to note this paragraph not only places the onus on the employer but also the employee. As a result it empowers the employee to make use of the Code of Practice so that they can themselves ensure that when they are operating on a site that everything is up to code. This in theory should not only prevent accidents but distribute the responsibility of accident prevention to the entire workforce.
The Code of Practice: Prevention of Falls at the Workplace however is not always adhered to and the consequences can be costly. SafetyCulture.com.au recently reported on an accident in which a scaffolding company failed to adhere to the best practices set out in the Code of Practice: Prevention of Falls at the Workplace, it reported that:
A scaffolding company has been fined $22,000 over an incident in which a worker was injured when he fell through an insufficiently protected void on a construction site. Source
Using this incident as a case study it may be of interest to examine how valuable lessons can be extracted from instances like this one. This case revolves around one specific detail, the fact that the scaffolding company partially covered a void with scaffolding and then covered the rest with unsupported particleboard. The problem arouse because the unsupported particleboard was not marked and no warnings were given, this left the unsuspecting working with little chance of knowing that, that part of the structure was unsupported. The article goes on to state that:
The void was quickly covered with planks after the incident. The same hazard was discovered in two other units, and these voids were also covered with plank.
The problem was diagnosed and a solution was quickly and effectively implemented. The solution however did only arise after the incident and it is useful to examine what the company could have done to prevent such an incident from occurring. The Code of Practice: Prevention of Falls at the Workplace identifies a three step process to follow in order to indentify and deal with hazards such as the one visited in the article:
- identify hazards;
- assess risks; and
- control risks.
It goes on to state that in identifying risks, consideration should be given to:
- previous injuries, ‘near miss’ incidents or accidents arising from falls which have occurred at the workplace or other similar workplaces;
- relevant codes of practice and guidance notes;
- consultation with employees, safety and health representatives (if any), safety and health committees, self employed people and contractors to find out what problems may be associated with performing tasks/ jobs;
- walk through inspections of the workplace (consider using checklists); and
- any other records or statistics which indicate potentially unsafe work practices.
Following this process employers and employees alike are able to manage a site to the extent that accidents and injuries should be virtually nonexistent. It is interesting to note that once the incident occurred, the scaffolding company seemed to follow these steps word for word. They were quickly able to identify the hazards in the two other units, assessing the risk and then controlling the risks with the fitment of sturdier planks over the particleboard. The company displayed how one can identify risks with consideration to previous injuries.
Workplace safety is of the utmost importance not only to ensure the health and wellbeing of employees but also to prevent incurring costly fines and lawsuits that can result from accidents. Thus it is important that all employees are given safety training. Safety training like that of the White Card course, which is a requirement for anybody working in the construction industry as set out in the National Code of Practice for Induction for Construction Work, which is available to all at SafeWorkAustralia.gov.au
(http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/AboutSafeWorkAustralia/WhatWeDo/Publications/Documents/244/InductionForConstructionWork_2007_PDF.pdf) This type of induction training is designed to expose construction workers to workplace safety and where and how to find the information that is going to be relevant to them in terms of workplace safety.