Young worker seriously injured by heavy timber sheets
In September 2022, a 17-year-old work experience student’s pelvis was fractured when a pack of heavy timber sheets fell onto him. The sheets were stacked on their edge and leaning against a wall. Early investigations found that the boards weighed approximately 30 kg each and the student was retrieving a cover board from the rear of the pack. Sheet materials, such as timber, stone and glass, can fall if they are not adequately supported while being transported, handled or stored. The risk of severe or fatal injuries increases when these materials are stacked on their edges and not adequately supported, restrained or secured from falling by suitable racking or transport frames. Workers also risk musculoskeletal injuries caused by strenuous activity or unexpected movements when heavy items move or change position suddenly while being handled.
Taking steps to manage risks is a condition of doing business in Queensland. Effective risk management starts with a commitment to health and safety from those who manage the business. Business owners are encouraged to use the hierarchy of controls to help decide how to eliminate and reduce risks in their place of work. The hierarchy of controls ranks types of control methods from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest. Business owners must work through the hierarchy of controls when managing risks, with the aim of eliminating the hazard, which is the most effective control.
Effective control measures for moving heavy objects such as heavy sheets often comprise a combination of controls. The WHS Regulation requires duty holders to work through the hierarchy of controls when managing certain risks, including risks from hazardous manual tasks. Some common risk control measures can include laying sheets horizontally on a flat surface rather than leaning them against a wall or structure, and using a rack or transport frame to 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. Duty holders should also include points for restraints to ensure the loads remain stable while moving and storing.
Duty holders are also advised to ensure that racks are designed for forces resulting from unbalanced loads. Using mechanical aids may also help eliminate or reduce the need for workers to lift, carry or support items. A range of mechanical aids is available, such as cranes (overhead travelling cranes, gantry cranes or jib cranes, stacker cranes, industrial manipulators and articulating arms), forklifts and glass panel, duct and plaster 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; within the safe working limits of the plant; and using established exclusion zones around the plant and adjoining areas. Duty holders must also ensure the use of adequate load-rated restraint equipment.
A safe system of work must also be developed for moving 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. Trolleys and other plant and equipment at the workplace must be 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 the plant or equipment, adverse effects of changes in process or materials associated with the plant and inadequacies in control measures that have been previously implemented. Duty holders should consult with the manufacturer, workers and others involved in the work to obtain feedback on the plant and associated work processes and safe work procedures. Duty holders should also provide information, training, instruction and supervision to workers who use the trolleys and other plant and equipment, including the development of safe work procedures in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. The information available should also include 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 risk must be minimised with suitable personal protective equipment, such as gloves, hard hats, protective footwear, eye protection and hearing protection.
Adopting and implementing higher order controls, before considering administrative or personal protective equipment controls, will reduce the likelihood of a similar incident occurring. The control measures put in place should be reviewed regularly to ensure that they work as planned.
Business owners must also ensure that the work environment, and the way young employees 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 a safe and healthy workplace, develop a positive workplace culture and provide information, training, instruction and supervision. Employers should also consider the tasks they give to new and young workers given their skills, abilities and experience. Before a young person begins work, a PCBU should identify gaps in the young worker’s knowledge and assess their ability to work safely; it is not enough to accept a young worker’s assurance that he or she is experienced and competent. Young workers must also participate in the way 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.
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