Failure to perform risk assessments and lack of instruction can be a lethal mix


Many of us, especially those within the height safety industry, can recall the tragic events on 5th November 2015 when a contractor conducting work at height at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre fell 17 metres to his death. Upon investigation it was revealed that the worker had removed himself from abseil ropes while cleaning duct work and during this task had stepped on an inspection hatch which had given way.

Recently at the sentence hearing on 5th June 2018, the company involved was fined $250,000 and its director $30,000. In his judgement, Magistrate Mark Howden found that the director “did not use due diligence to ensure his company carried out an adequate risk assessment. If this had been done the hatch would have been discovered to be not load bearing and workers could have been advised of the danger and suitable preventative issues could have been taken.”

This case highlights important safety measures that must be carried out prior to and during any work being done at height. Had these been followed the events of 5th November 2015 may have had a very different result.

Performing risk assessments is vital to ensure that you and your workers are working in a safe working environment. This is particularly important when working at height, as the potential for injury or death is much greater.

Conduct a risk assessment

Prior to the work being commenced assess the site for potential risks and dangers. Normally this is conducted by the person who is responsible for carrying out the task but there should also be consultation with the workers directly engaged in the work and other key stakeholders which may include the PCBU (Person Conducting the Business Undertaking). Health and Safety Representatives may also be asked for their input. Key points to address are:

  • How will the site and work areas be accessed?
  • What equipment is being used and is it adequate for the application?
  • What is the condition of the equipment?
  • Have the workers conducting the tasks been properly trained in the correct use of the equipment?
  • What is the general condition of the work area?
  • Are there any identifiable risks or hazards, ie brittle roof surfaces, fragile and/or unprotected skylights, unprotected roof hatches?
  • What actions will need to be implemented to control, reduce or eliminate the risks?

Control the Risks

Once you have identified any risks or hazards in the workplace specific controls and measures will need to be actioned to ensure the highest level of safety for workers. According to the hierarchy of risk control the ideal scenario is to eliminate the hazards completely. Unfortunately, this is not always possible, especially in the area of work at height. What must be done is to minimise, as much as possible, the potential dangers involved in the work.

For more information read our Working At Heights Manual which details your requirements and gives system design criteria for access and fall protection equipment.

Complete a Safe Work Method Statement

A Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) must be completed for any high risk construction work.  A SWMS details the work to be carried out, hazards relating to that work and the control measures that will be implemented to minimise or remove the risks.

See our post What is a SWMS for more information and templates to assist you in the preparation of a SWMS.

Whether you are a building owner, manager, employer or employee it is everyone’s responsibility, so far as is reasonably practicable, to ensure that the workplace is without risks to health and safety. Are you doing all you can?

Take our 3 minute HEIGHT SAFETY HEALTH CHECK to obtain a detailed report to see if you are meeting your workplace obligations.

For more information about working at height requirements contact the Sayfa team on 1300 301 755 or info@sayfa.com.au.