Solar installer fined for ignoring fall risk
Electrical services company Sentenal Technologies Pty Ltd has been convicted and fined $32,000 in relation to unsafe work practices on a site in Geelong. The company pleaded guilty to three charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The company was convicted and fined an aggregate $30,000 for failing to provide a safe system of work and failing to ensure a Safe Work Method Statement was in place for high risk construction work. The company was also fined $2000 without conviction for failing to comply with a notice under section 9 of the OHS Act and was ordered to pay an additional $7890 in costs.
In September 2021, a WorkSafe inspector observed five of the company’s workers removing solar panels from the roof of an industrial warehouse in Corio, the tallest part of which was seven metres high. None of the workers were wearing available harnesses and there was no edge protection because, although guard rail footings had been installed, no railings were present. Despite the work constituting high risk construction work due to the risk of a fall from a height greater than two metres, the workers indicated a Safe Work Method Statement had not been prepared due to difficulties with an online application.
An investigation found WorkSafe inspectors had previously discussed fall risks with the company on nine occasions and issued improvement or prohibition notices on five of those. The company also failed to comply with a WorkSafe order to produce all Safe Work Method Statements regarding the company’s work at the Corio warehouse.
To prevent falls from height, WorkSafe Victoria recommends that employers should eliminate the risk by doing all or some of the work on the ground or from a solid construction. Employers are also advised to use a passive fall prevention device such as scaffolds, perimeter screens, guardrails, safety mesh or elevating work platforms. Positioning systems, such as travel restraint systems, or fall arrest systems such as a harness, could also limit the risk of injuries in the event of a fall. Employers should also consider using a fixed or portable ladder, or implementing administrative controls.
When undertaking high risk construction work (HRCW), duty holders must ensure that HRCW is not performed unless a safe work method statement (SWMS) is prepared. Once a SWMS has been developed, all high risk construction work must be undertaken in accordance with that SWMS. Work should be stopped immediately, or as soon as it is safe to do so, if a SWMS is not being followed. The SWMS must be reviewed whenever there is a change in the work being undertaken or if there is an indication that control measures are not adequate. A copy of the SWMS must be retained for the duration of any HRCW.
WorkSafe Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said the risks and deadly consequences of falls from height are notorious. “It beggars belief that safety measures such as harnesses and guard rails were available to these workers but were not being used at the time. WorkSafe will continue to take strong action against any duty holder who fails to control the very real risk of serious injury or death from working at height on construction sites,” Beer said.
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