Company fined for failing to protect workers at height

Wednesday, 22 May, 2024

Company fined for failing to protect workers at height

A Victorian electrical company, New Switch Electrical Pty Ltd, has been convicted and fined $40,000 for repeatedly putting workers at risk when working at height. The company was found guilty of three charges of failing to provide or maintain a safe workplace, and ordered to pay $3959 in costs.

In July 2022, WorkSafe inspectors observed two New Switch Electrical apprentices installing solar panels on the roof of a Wandana Heights home with no falls protection in place. The inspectors were reportedly told the sole company director was aware there was no falls protection on the 2.7-metre-high roof and had left the workers on the site unsupervised. A safe work method statement (SWMS) had also not been prepared for the work.

WorkSafe previously took compliance action against the company in June 2021, after a New Switch Electrical apprentice was observed installing solar panels on a house with no falls protection or SWMS in place. It was reasonably practicable for the company to provide safe systems of work to ensure fall protection measures, such as guard rails, were installed before any work was carried out; to supervise workers to ensure they did not commence work without fall protection measures in place; and to ensure that an SWMS was prepared prior to commencing high-risk construction work.

WorkSafe Executive Director (Health and Safety) Narelle Beer said failing to manage the risks of working at height is a tragedy waiting to happen. “It’s incredibly disappointing to see the very well-known strategies to reduce the risk of falls continue to be ignored, and it's even more frustrating that this employer had previously acknowledged they understood their safety obligations. The workers involved were young apprentices with their whole working lives ahead of them and it is awful to think their futures were knowingly put at risk because of this employer’s failure,” Beer said.

To prevent falls from height, WorkSafe Victoria advises employers to eliminate the risk by doing all or some of the work on the ground or from a solid construction. Using a passive fall prevention device such as scaffolds, perimeter screens, guardrails, safety mesh or elevating work platforms could also help reduce the risk of a fall from height. WorkSafe also recommends using a positioning system, such as a travel restraint system, to ensure employees work within a safe area. Using a fall arrest system, such as a harness, catch platform or safety net, could also limit the risk of injuries in the event of a fall. Employers are also encouraged to use a fixed or portable ladder, or implement administrative controls.

When carrying out High Risk Construction Work (HRCW), duty holder must prepare a SWMS prior to commencing HRCW. All High Risk Construction Work must then be performed in accordance with that SWMS. WorkSafe advises duty holders to stop work immediately, or as soon as it is safe to do so, once they become aware that a SWMS is not being followed.

The SWMS must be reviewed whenever there is a change to the work being undertaking or if there is an indication that the control measures are inadequate. A copy of the SWMS must also be retained for the duration of the HRCW.

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