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Date PostedJuly 14, 2012

White Card Update: Young worker Falls Through Skylight

Yet another disturbing construction incident has resulted in a young worker suffering critical injuries on a site in Byron Bay. The worker, a plumber was air lifted to hospital where he remains in a serious condition following a fall through a skylight. This incident highlights the industry’s negligence regarding safety when working from heights and management of fall hazards.

Abc.net.au had this to say on the incident:


A man is in a critical but stable condition after falling about 10 metres through a skylight in Byron Bay.

Emergency service crews were called to the town’s industrial estate just after midday Monday.

A 26-year-old plumber has been flown to the Gold Coast Hospital for treatment.

Workcover is investigating the accident.

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2012/07/02/3537232.htm?site=brisbane

It doesn’t need to be said that falling from heights can cause serious injury and potentially death for workers in the construction industry, it is a common occurrence construction sites, yet employers continue to fail in the duty to provide a safe work system for workers. Workers are often forced to work on scaffolding, roofs and other elevated structures without the proper precautionary measures.  For construction workers falling is a major cause of accidents and death on site according to statistics and the figures don’t lie. Workers need to be vigilant when working on site and even more so when their work involves work on structures, higher than normal such as roofs and ceilings.

Dealing with a Fall Hazard

There are specific measures that workplace safety laws require to minimise the risks of working at heights. The basics of these include:

  • Workers should be provided with and trained on the correct use of PPE and its use is non-negotiable, it is compulsory.
  • The work area should be reasonably stable.
  • Physical barriers should be in place over exposed edges, such as guard rails.
  • Safe access and walkways should be provided to all parts of your workplace.

Once the risk has been identified and assessed the risks should be either eliminated or substituted.

As with all hazards controls must be implemented in the following order:

  • eliminate the hazard, e.g. work on the ground instead of from a height
  • minimise the risk, such as substituting a work process with a less hazardous one, such as using walkways for access instead of using ladders.
  • isolation of the hazard, e.g. using a physical barrier
  • modify the system of work or equipment such as using a travel restraint
  • If none of the above can reduce the hazard sufficiently, adopt administrative controls, such as changing work rosters.
  • Personal protective equipment should be the last resort, but should be worn as an additional safety measure.

A workplace health and safety plan should be used to manage workplace health and such as plan should include how to handle hazards to health and safety from working on an elevated position or any place from which a person can fall.

The risks need to be assessed and identify which risks could result in a fall hazard. Employers should also consider control measures to eliminate or minimise the level of risk. Employers should also indicate how the control measures can be monitored and reviewed.

Control measures must be in place before a worker starts work at a height, such as ensuring working platforms are in place before formwork is erected. Some cases warrant more than control measure at time to be implemented in conjunction with one another. Physical barriers are the preferred method of preventing a person from falling from height, examples include edge protection systems and fall protection covers.

An edge protection system can be made of guard railing to be used on the edge of working platforms, walkways, stairways, ramps and landings and should run parallel to the working surface.

Holes or openings are often covered with wire mesh. These should not be used as a working platform. All covers should be securely fixed around the hole. Signs should also be attached to the cover to warn people that there is a hole underneath. This is a particularly dangerous hazard as many lives have been lost when workers fell through these mesh covers.

For example, metal mesh is spread on top of purlins or battens to provide fall protection for roof installers from falling between the purlins or battens.

Systems of work and equipment that secure a person to a building or structure are known as personal fall protection, and should be used to minimise the risk of a person falling from a height or injury to a person after they have fallen from height.

The best method of protection is to use personal fall protection in conjunction with other fall protection systems. The use of these fall protection systems requires proper training to ensure that workers are using the equipment correctly if it is reduce the injury caused by falling.

Posted by Steven Asnicar


Steven Asnicar is regarded as a leader across many fields of industry. In particular, his specialisation across the health, infrastructure, construction, resource and utility sectors has seen him successfully change the dynamics of these industries through the introduction of new strategic, marketing, training and technical frameworks. Steven works closely with industry peak bodies such as Safework Australia, Australian Logistics Council, National Advisory for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment (NATESE) and the Council of Australian Governments in the development of new delivery standards and industry specific programs.

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