The unions are claiming that self-regulation in the construction industry is leading to a number of fatalities on building sites as a result of falls. Unions are subsequently calling for stricter safety regulations and enforcement to stop construction workers falling and dying as a result on worksites. The union warns that more deaths should be expected unless self-regulation is done away with.
According to Safe Work Australia falls from heights are a major cause of injury and death on Australian worksites. Some worksites are more prone than others, construction being one of them.
According to Safe Work Australia, there are 800,000 workers in Oz that work at heights. These workers including tradespeople, maintenance and cleaning workers are at risk of suffering a fatal fall and statistics show that on average 26 of them fall to their deaths every year. Also an additional 8000 are injured annually.
According to the secretary of Working At Heights Association, Gordon Cadzow regulators aren’t enforcing the safety standards which is why this is the second most common cause of death in the injury. As he explains there needs to be someone to enforce the law, because companies cannot be trusted to self-regulate. He explains that falling from heights gives victims no second chance.
A lack of safety regulations particularly relating to fall protection, is resulting in a number of incidents, many of which prove to be fatal. People who work from heights are dependent upon fall protection systems made up of ropes and anchors to remain safe. When these systems are ignored or neglected by employers, workers are basically going in unarmed.
Experts say that although there is a certification system in place to protect workers that work from heights, it is “hopelessly unreliable and unregulated” and abseil anchor points are often untested which places workers at risk.
According to one industry expert, Peter Ferguson from the Australian Rope Access Association people are being allowed to get away with not applying the rules. As he explains the rules are in place but they prove pointless because they aren’t being enforced or policed, leaving too much room for mishaps.
Some industry insiders are finding that fall protection may be implemented, even certified but they aren’t effective, in fact some may prove faulty.
People in the industry are calling for WorkCover or an accreditation body to conduct site inspections and to threaten companies with penalties in order for them to comply with the rules.
Ladders still a major Risk
One of the biggest risks it seems when it comes to falling on work sites applies to falls from ladders. According to statistics at least 90 per cent of the ladders utilised in Australia aren’t up to Australian standards.
The regulator has been approached and asked to address this issue but nothing has been done, the unions say this lack of action will result in more unnecessary and preventable fatalities due to falls from heights.
Workplace Death from Ladder Fall
In 2012 a Melbourne based plumber was killed when he fell from a ladder on a construction site. The man was working from the ladder at the time and following his death and an investigation, the Victoria Coroners Court found that the ladder was defective and unsafe for work.
The plumber’s friends and family say that he should still be alive and would have been if the correct ladder had been used.
This tragic incident is an example of what can happen when defective equipment is used and in fact when work from heights is not properly controlled and regulated.
One of the most important considerations when it comes to work from heights, particularly in the construction environment is that all workers have received the necessary training.
The general construction safety course also known as the white card course teaches workers the basics of safe work from heights. Workers learn the dos and don’ts of work from heights as well as the rights and responsibilities on the construction site. That is part of the reason why this White Card training is mandatory for all construction workers because at some point in their career they will be required to work from a height.
Unions say state regulators aren’t acting on Safety Issues
The unions say that despite the numerous fall from height fatalities, state workplace regulators aren’t stepping up and acting on the issue. They are calling for more policing of the work from height sector.
Regulators may be suffering from a lack of funding such as Victoria’s WorkCover authority WorkSafe who have had their funding cut by almost $500 million.