Statistics are only part of the story

On April 10th 1991, David Crawford's life changed forever.


"On average every year in Australia over 8,100 serious claims are lodged due to a fall from height. That's the statistics but what about the reality?

David Crawford freely admits he never used fall protection when he was working as a building contractor, even throughout his apprenticeship. But even though he was remiss in not using the appropriate equipment he was not brash or over confident and was still acutely aware of the dangers associated with work at height.

In the weeks leading up to his accident in April 1991, David had concerns about the integrity of the structure he was commissioned to work on. So much so, he sought advice from both the architect and engineer. After a review of the design and drawings he was given the go ahead that the roof fixing and structure would be adequate and that there was no reason to delay progress. Adding to the pressure to get the job done was the large increase in workload that his business had seen in recent times. He felt obligated to his employees to keep the jobs flowing.

Initially when work began everything ran smoothly but about two to three weeks into the project the roof section was being constructed. It was while David was building this area that a section collapsed and he fell 4.8 metres.

His injuries were extreme and the trauma that he suffered to his spine rendered him a quadriplegic. After nine months in hospital he returned home to the prospect of a totally different future.

"At the end of the day the onus on fall protection and the using of that equipment comes down to the individual."

Through this adversity David has risen to become a voice for the working at heights industry. After his accident he initiated legal proceedings and brought about change to the Workers Compensation laws for sub contractors. A further court case ensued with Workcover NSW where it was found that the architect, engineer and builder were all liable for his accident. However at this ruling it was also found that to some degree there was blame on David's side. After all, it had been his decision on whether to proceed with the work or not.

In 1997, as a result of his case, Workcover NSW instigated changes to the legislation and requirements for those working at heights, an outcome which David is extremely proud of.

"If you are the owner of a business and you have apprentices and trainees on your site it is up to you to show them the use of the codes and the regulations that are in place to make sure that they go home at the end of the day."

The injury has left him with a purpose - to do all he can to educate and inform workers of the dangers of working at height and the consequences of not using fall protection equipment. With his passion for workplace safety, David became a member of the Teamsafe Organisation and conducted presentations to workplaces throughout Australia. It was at one of these presentations at SAYFA that we had the pleasure of meeting David. Unfortunately due to a run of ill health he has had to take a step back and now only occasionally carries out speaking engagements.

However, not content with being idle, he volunteers at Marine Rescue NSW and is currently involved in a challenge to raise money for children with cancer.

But his hunger for spreading the height safety word is still always at the forefront of his mind.

David's story and many others like his are the reason we feel so passionate about height safety. They are our inspiration.

How healthy are your working at heights practices? Our Height Safety Risk Calculator quickly evaluates your risk and provides a detailed report.

Read the video transcript:

SAYFA GROUP - Falls change lives

David had an accident at work that would change his life forever.

On April 10th 1991, David fell from a roof onto his back.

Breaking his neck in 3 places and rendering him a quadriplegic.

"I never used fall protection when I was working. Even when I went through my apprenticeship I never used fall protection.

The height safety industry is already working very hard to put systems and to come up with measures so that tradesmen accessing working at heights in any form have some form of fall protection in place but at the end of the day the onus on fall protection and the using of that equipment comes down to the individual.

Spreading the word on height safety is very important. Educating people on the consequences of them not using fall protection equipment, educating people of the consequences after you've had an injury and showing them what life is like is very, very important because that changes people's lives. It means that people go home at the end of the day.

My younger days I get a smile on my face when I think of what we used to do as kids growing up. Surfing was my main sport. Just prior to my injury, two weeks prior, I started to go semi-pro in the circuit. I'd actually signed a Rip Curl contract. I just loved life. I was always outdoors, working and playing sport.

David has up to 4 rehabilitation sessions a week.

His progress has been limited by the nature of his accident.

But he continues to set goals to improve his recovery.

"The challenges are just basically getting around, whether I'm shopping or doing some form of work. Just general activities are very difficult.

Life is very difficult, living with quadriplegia in a wheelchair. The challenge I face on a day to day basis is, for me just to start my day I have a three and a half hour home community nursing service that comes to help me just to get up every morning."

David works at Marine Rescue NSW with a strong passion to help others.

David's accident has led him to be a voice of change in the industry.

With the mindset to educate employers and employees on work safety.

"If you're the owner of a business and you have apprentices or trainees on site within your company the onus is on you to train those apprentices and trainees correctly on the correct work methods in relation to working at heights, using of scaffolds, using of harnesses, using of fall protection equipment that's available and it's up to you to show them the use of the codes and the regulations that are in place to make sure that they go home at the end of the day."

Falls change lives.

SAYFA's design service can assist with compliant, user friendly height protection equipment design. Contact the design team at [email protected] or 1300 301 755 to discuss your requirements further.