A key issue that WorkSafe Victoria has been pushing for in the construction sector is fall protection. One of the most ignored occupational health and safety rules, fall protection has been a major campaign driver for the occupational health and safety body, especially given the associated risks. Risks that were recently taken and have seen devastating results.
“Unfortunately we frequently find fall protection missing on construction sites although it has been required for many years” says Allan Beacom, acting director of WorkSafe’s Construction and Utilities division.
One such incident where fall protection failed to be implemented has caused enormous economic fallout, as well the serious injury of an apprentice.
The accident, which occurred in 2010 but has only just been resolved, occurred when four construction workers, including three apprentices, were replacing storm damaged roof tiles on a Rowville property. The 2.4 metre high rooftop working space didn’t not have the required guard rails installed, so when one of the apprentices lost his footing, he fell to ground, at which point cement splashed in his eye.
While the fall itself did not hurt the apprentice, the cement damage which caused a number of following events, eventually lost him his sight in his left eye.
“It is enormously frustrating that this most fundamental of issues in construction work, and roof tiling in particular, must still be a focus of WorkSafe’s law enforcement activity,” says Beacom, “the outcome in this matter was a very serious injury to a young worker who was owed a much higher duty of care by his employer”.
Not only has the accident had a physical consequence, the contractor has been hit with a $7,500 fine in addition to court costs of $2,894. While this may seem like a small sum to those in big business, the fine comes at one third of the company’s annual profit rate.
Beacom hopes that the economic stress that these accidents put onto industry companies of every size will be enough to scare them into action, because the health risks certainly are not.
“If you don’t get it right, the level of inconvenience for the business, lost time and ultimately profitability will be hit hard,”says Beacom, “learning from your own mistakes and those of others will save lives – not doing so puts lives and businesses at risk”.
Fall protection is a simple and effective measure that is vital on every single work site in this country. The fact is, occupational health and safety in this industry is not a suggestion. It is not something that can be ignored or forgotten because the risks are too great, with their chances too high. Not only will members of this industry find themselves in dire economic trouble if they fail to follow these guidelines, the risk of debilitating injury or death is simply too great.