Safety alert issued after worker falls from roof
In July 2022, a Queensland worker was seriously injured when he fell over three metres from a roof. Early investigations revealed that he was removing asbestos roofing sheets and was lying on the roof facing downward when his body slipped and he fell head first off the roof. WorkSafe Queensland notes that fall hazards are found in many workplaces where work is carried out at height, including the removal of roofing sheets, and advises persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) to identify all locations and tasks that could create fall risks, including access to the areas where work is to be carried out.
Key things to look for include but are not limited to: edges (open edges of floors, working platforms, walkways and walls); holes and openings; levels (where levels change and workers may be exposed to a fall from one level to another); and the evenness and stability of the ground for safe support of a scaffold or work platform.
Taking steps to manage risks is a condition of doing business in Queensland; if an incident occurs, PCBUs will need to show the regulator that they have used an effective risk management process. This responsibility is covered by the primary duty of care in the Work Health and Safety Act 2011. PCBUs are advised to work through the hierarchy of controls when managing risks — with the aim of eliminating the hazard, which is the most effective control. The hierarchy of controls ranks types of control method from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest.
The Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 (the WHS Regulation) requires specific fall risk control measures to be implemented where it is reasonably practicable to do so. If the work is construction work, then Chapter Six of the WHS Regulation applies. If the work meets the definition of high-risk construction work, then a safe work method statement must be prepared. Further regulations such as Part 6.3 Sub-division 2 ‘Falls’, which provides prescriptive control measures, would also then apply. PCBUs must consider various control options and choose the control that most effectively eliminates or minimises the risk in the circumstances. This may involve a single control measure or a combination of different controls that provide the highest level of protection.
Barriers must be provided on relevant parts of a solid construction to prevent a person falling over edges and into holes. The barrier must be designed and constructed to withstand the force of someone falling against it. These include the perimeters of building or other structures, and openings in floors such as the open edge of a stair, landing, platform or shaft opening. A fall protection cover — also referred to as a void protection cover — must be able to withstand the impact of any person who could fall onto it and prevent them from falling through the void. The fall protection cover must also be securely fixed in place to prevent it being moved. PCBUs are advised to ensure that the fall protection cover is suitable for its intended use and that it is installed in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
Temporary work platforms can also be used to provide a working area for the duration of the work and designed to prevent workers from falling. Temporary work platforms can include scaffolds, elevating work platforms (EWPs) and workboxes. Work positioning systems — which enable a person to work supported in a harness in such a way that a fall is prevented — must only be considered if it is not reasonably practicable to carry out work on the ground or on a solid construction, as a high level of competency is required for their safe use.
Administrative controls may be used to support other control measures and may include ‘no go’ areas (these require clear signs warning people not to access the hazardous area) and permit systems that only allow competent people trained in the use of relevant control measures to work in an area where there is an hazard. PCBUs must not use administrative controls exclusively to minimise the risk of falls, unless it is not reasonably practicable to use a higher order of control. The control measures put in place should be monitored and reviewed regularly, to ensure they work as planned.
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