In December 2019, a worker suffered serious injury after falling approximately 5m through a roof whilst doing maintenance on a shed.
In a similar incident in February 2020, a man died after falling through the roof of a building. Early investigations indicate he was repairing a skylight.
Preventing a similar incident
Falls are a major cause of death and serious injury at workplaces. Risk of falling is common for many work activities. The risk of serious injury from a fall depends mainly on the height and surface below. There may also be additional risk when working on or near fragile roof surfaces. Roofs are likely to be fragile if they are made with:
- asbestos roofing sheets
- polycarbonate or plastic commonly used in skylights
- fibre cement sheets
- liner panels on built-up sheeted roofs
- metal sheets and fasteners (especially when corroded)
Before commencing any work on a roof or at height, all surfaces must be inspected to identify any potentially fragile spots. All locations and tasks which could lead to fall injury should also be identified. This includes access to areas where the work is to be done. Close attention is required for tasks:
- on any structure or plant being constructed or installed, demolished or dismantled, inspected, tested, repaired or cleaned
- on a fragile surface (for example, cement sheeting roofs, rusty metal roofs, fibreglass sheeting roofs and skylights)
- on a sloping or slippery surface where it is difficult for people to maintain their balance (for example, on glazed tiles)
- near an unprotected open edge (for example, near incomplete stairwells)
The person conducting the business or undertaking (PCBU) must manage risks associated with falls at the workplace. Effective risk management starts with a commitment to health and safety from those who manage the business. Managing work health and safety risks associated with falls is an ongoing process and involves four steps; the identification of hazards, assessing risks, controlling risks, and reviewing control measures to ensure they are working.
Once risks have been assessed, the next step is to control risks associated with falls. These control measures are ranked from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest and are known as the hierarchy of control. PCBUs must work through this hierarchy to choose the controls that most effectively eliminate or, where that is not reasonably practicable, minimise the risks.
In managing the risk of falls, the WHS Regulation requires specific control measures to be implemented, where it is reasonably practicable to do so. This can be achieved by doing one or more of the following:
- Substituting the hazard causing the risk with something of lesser risk (e.g. using an elevating work platform so workers can avoid standing on the roof). If standing on the roof cannot be avoided, then the next steps can be considered.
- Implementing engineering controls – for example:
- safety mesh secured under fragile roofing or skylights that conforms to AS/NZS 4389:2015 and is installed by a competent person
- travel restraint or fall-arrest with adequate anchorage points
- walkways or crawl boards of a suitable size and strength
- barriers such as guard rails or covers that are secured and labelled with a warning
- guard rails fitted to all work and access staging.
- Administrative controls. If risk remains, it must then be minimised by using administrative controls. For example:
- implementing a safe system of work that considers the design, condition and layout of elevated work areas, including the distance of a potential fall and the load rating of the structure (e.g. roof materials, correct set up, stability)
- permanent warning signs at every likely access point to the roof alerting the presence of fragile roofing materials
- implementing safe systems for a travel restraint or fall-arrest mechanism, including the provision of adequate training, instruction and supervision in how to use them, as well as emergency and rescue procedures should someone fall.
- ensuring knowledge and training are adequate to perform the task safely (young, new or inexperienced workers may be unfamiliar with a task).
- Personal protective equipment (PPE) – Any remaining risk must be minimised with suitable personal protective equipment, for example hard hats and appropriate footwear for working on roofs.
Note: Administrative control measures and PPE rely on human behaviour and supervision, and used on their own, tend to be least effective in minimising risks.
Between July 2014 and June 2019, an average of 160 workers’ compensation claims relating to falls from or through a building or structure were accepted annually.
From July 2014 to January 2020, WHSQ was notified of 173 events involving a fall from a roof or through a ceiling. In the same period, WHSQ issued 1,247 statutory notices relating to either an incident or managing the risk of falling from a roof or through a ceiling.
Prosecutions and compliance
In 2017, a business was fined $75,000 and a sub-contractor $30,000 after a young apprentice fell almost 4m from a roof while trying to retrieve a circular saw, which was in danger of falling. The apprentice struck a concrete wall before landing on the ground sustaining concussion, cuts and abrasions, and a scalp laceration. There was no edge protection or fall prevention control, no site induction, and the apprentice didn’t receive any work at heights training.
In 2015, a business was fined $52,000 after an apprentice fell 9.2m though an unprotected skylight (made up of four smaller skylights) sustaining serious injuries, including a fractured eye socket, a fractured vertebra and a compressed spinal disc. The skylight had been identified as a hazard, but no measures were used to isolate or guard the work area around it.
March 6, 2020