White Card Update: Student Fall lands Government Department in Court

According to government statistics falling is the leading cause of death on construction sites and between 1995 and 1999, 362 falls occurred. That statistics makes this incident even more disturbing.

 A student at an Adelaide TAFE campus suffered a fall after walking across an unstable roof beam and fell through plasterboard 4.5m to the ground. The student received $20,000 from the government department involved for having suffered broken bones and other serious injuries.


SafetyCulture.com.au had this to report:

The Government Department that is responsible for an Adelaide TAFE campus has been fined $120,000 after an admission of guilt in the Industrial Relations Court. They are also required to pay $20,000 to the student that was injured in the fall.

 The fall happened in November 2009 when the construction student needed walk across a roof beam to assist with detaching a panel; he fell from the beam through exposed plasterboard 4.5 metres to the floor breaking bones and received serious injuries.

 The government department pleaded guilty to the failure to conduct a risk assessment and provide fall protection to the student.

Read more: http://www.safetyculture.com.au/news/index.php/08/government-department-in-sa-fined-over-student-fall/

Ordinarily construction site falls can result from a number of incidents, including use of unsafe or incomplete scaffolds, inappropriate ladders/ladder use, falling from or through roofs, falls from trucks, falls into holes, pits or shafts, accessing shelving, accessing mezzanine areas. Falls from heights are an extremely prevalent and dangerous threat to construction workers and so needs to be managed accordingly.

Even falls from relatively low height have the ability to cause very serious injuries, including fractures, spinal cord injury, concussions and brain damage. Management of the risks can significantly reduce the number of deaths caused by falling.

Employers should allocate responsibility to workers in managing fall prevention.  Each job is different and the needs have to be decided and specific responsibilities allocated. Responsibilities that can be distributed include ensuring adequate fall prevention is in place, equipment is used correctly, safety measures are maintained and workers are given adequate instruction and training. Employers have the main responsibility for ensuring that work environment is safe and free from fall threats.

Manufacturers, importers and suppliers of equipment must ensure that they equipment they provide is designed, constructed and tested so it’s safe to use when used for the purpose it was designed, manufactured or supplied. Employers also need to provide adequate information and training about how to use the equipment correctly. 

One of the highly risky practices on a construction site is working on a roof. To comply with the OHS Prevention of Falls Regulations 2003, employers must identify all tasks that involve the possibility of someone falling more than two metres.  These tasks may include construction, demolition, repairs or maintenance, on plant or structure, work on fragile or unstable surfaces, work on sloping or slippery surfaces, work near an edge, hole, pit or shaft.

Things that should be considered when assessing the risks include the nature, size and layout of the workplace, The duration, extent and type of work to be done, height at which workers will be required to access or undertake work, training and experience of employees undertaking  the work, how to get to the work area, the number and movement of people and plant on the work site and conditions of work.  Some aspects to consider include is it windy or slippery? Is there poor lighting, sloping surfaces or other hazards above or below work area such as power lines, impaling hazards or trees?

For employers, if it is not possible to eliminate the risk, precautions should be taken to manage the risk and thus minimise the likelihood of someone falling.  Working on the ground is the most effective method of protecting workers from fall hazards, however this isn’t always possible so the hazard has to be managed.

Construction workers need to use personal protective equipment to minimise injury in the event of a fall or any other hazard protection on a construction site. Workers shouldn’t just be given PPE, but must be trained on its correct use so that workers can get the full benefit of the PPE.  This in conjunction with other measures mentioned above, when combined can contribute to a safer and healthier work environment.

Posted by Steven Asnicar