Safety alert issued after workers injured by stone slabs

Tuesday, 19 April, 2022

Safety alert issued after workers injured by stone slabs

In January 2022, two workers (including a young worker) sustained serious lower limb and foot injuries when several unsecured engineered stone slabs fell from a trolley they were using. A third worker suffered a laceration when he tried to lift the slabs off the others. The stone slabs weighed approximately 120 kilograms each and while investigations are ongoing, it appears a trolley failure caused the incident. Sheet materials, such as glass, stone and granite benchtops, can fall if they are not adequately supported while being transported, handled or stored. The risk of severe or fatal injuries is high when sheet materials, which have been stacked on their edges, are being handled or moved and the sheets are not adequately supported by suitable racking or transport frames. Workers can also sustain musculoskeletal injuries through strenuous activity or unexpected movements when heavy loads move or change position suddenly while being handled.

Taking steps to manage risks is a condition of doing business in Queensland. If an incident occurs, business owners 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. Using the hierarchy of controls can help business owners decide how to eliminate and reduce risks in the workplace. Business owners must work through the hierarchy of controls when managing risks to eliminate the hazard. To prevent similar incidents, business owners are advised to implement effective control measures for moving heavy objects such as sheets of stone or marble. The WHS Regulation requires duty holders to work through the hierarchy of controls measures when managing certain risks, including risks from hazardous manual tasks.

Duty holders are advised to use a rack or transport frame to securely store, cradle, lift, transport and restrain sheet materials. Racks and transport frames (including trolleys) should be designed and certified for the loads applied in use, while trolleys should be selected based on the loads to be moved and the ground conditions at the workplace. Connection points must also be included for restraints, to ensure the loads remain stable while moving and storing.

Using mechanical aids or mechanical equipment can help eliminate or reduce the need for workers to lift, carry or support items. A range of mechanical aids is available, such as cranes (including overhead travelling cranes, gantry cranes, jib cranes, stacker cranes, industrial manipulators and articulating arms), forklifts, vacuum or magnet assisted lifters, and glass panel, duct and plastic lifters.

When plant is being used to lift or suspend people or objects, the person with management or control of the equipment at a workplace must ensure that the plant used is designed to lift or suspend the load. The person must ensure the lifting and suspending is carried out with lifting attachments suitable for the load being lifted or suspended, within the safe working limits of the plant and using established exclusion zones around the plant and adjoining areas. The size of the exclusion zone should be based on a written risk assessment. Duty holders are also advised to use adequate load-rated restraint equipment, and to develop a safe system of work for the movement of stone slabs and other similar sheet materials. This could include ensuring that the workload and pace of work accommodates the physical demands of the manual tasks. Where possible, work should be organised to minimise multiple handling and improve the flow of work. Workflows can be improved by having raw material delivered, located or transferred mechanically to the location or work area where they will be used, locating storage areas close to distribution areas and using mobile plant to deliver materials, tools and items.

Duty holders are advised to ensure trolleys and other plant and equipment at the workplace are inspected, maintained and repaired according to the manufacturer’s recommendations and specifications. Plant inspections should be conducted in accordance with a regular maintenance system to identify deficiencies in plant or equipment associated with use of the plant (such as wear and tear or corrosion), adverse effects of changes in processes or materials associated with the plant and inadequacies in control measures that have been previously implemented.

Duty holders must consult the manufacturer, workers and others involved in the work to obtain feedback on the plant and associated work processes and safe work procedures. Workers who use the trolleys and other plant and equipment must receive information, training, instruction and supervision. Duty holders must also develop safe work procedures in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions that are suitable for the nature of the work to be carried out, the nature of the risks associated with the work and the control measures implemented to deal with these risks. Duty holders must ensure that the information available includes the rating for equipment, such as trolleys, that is used at the workplace and what loading limits may apply based on the products. Any remaining risks must be minimised with suitable personal protective equipment, such as gloves, hard hats, protective footwear, eye protection or hearing protection.

Adopting and implementing higher order controls, before considering administrative or PPE controls, will reduce the likelihood of a similar incident occurring. The control measures put in place should be reviewed regularly to ensure they work as planned.

Business owners must ensure that the work environment and the way young workers do their job is safe and healthy, regardless of the type and terms of their employment. Employers of young workers should understand young workers’ risk profile, provide information, training, instruction and supervision, and develop a positive workplace culture. Business owners are advised to consider the tasks given to new and young workers, with respect to their skills, abilities and experience. Before a young person begins work, a PCBU should identify the gaps in the worker’s knowledge and assess their ability to work safely (competency should be tested). It is important for young workers to actively participate in the way that work health and safety is managed. This includes taking induction and training seriously, using the risk management process for work tasks and asking for help before starting a task they’re not familiar with or comfortable carrying out.

Image credit: © Lesik

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