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Falls From Heights - Construction Blitz in NSW

Posted by Ian Good on 13 October 2020

A recent blitz by NSW SafeWork inspectors identified a number of non-compliant or unsafe work practices, mainly associated with mid-rise and residential construction projects in Sydney and in regional NSW.

There were the inevitable issues with prevention of falls including poorly designed scaffolding, inadequate edge protection for roofs or stair voids, and lack of training for users of fall arrest harness and systems.

Two things that were surprising were:

  • 25% of construction works did not have a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS).
  • The requirement for the principal contractor to inform unlicensed workers NOT to alter scaffolding. This was a specific item on the checklist. Only 60% of PC's had complied.

The former issue is a clear duty of the principal contractor or their subcontractors to have developed a SWMS for any high risk construction work. 1 in 4 builders either did not know or felt it unnecessary to have a SWMS. Any builder should be aware of this requirement and there is absolutely no excuse not to have one or many SWMS to address the safety issues for the works.

One would hope that employer organisations see these statistics and reach out to their members and provide further guidance and training as to the purpose of a SWMS and how they should be developed. Moreover, one would hope that SafeWork NSW also promote the importance of SWMS and the duties of all contractors on building sites.

The latter issue is a little more difficult to comprehend. It would be interesting to see the statistics that support the singling out scaffolding adjustments. The requirement is a negative and it would be possible to extend this to aspects such as:

1. Workers to be advised NOT to attach the anchoring ropes to untested anchor points.

2. Workers to be advised NOT to carry something on a ladder that requires two hands to hold.

3. Workers to be advised NOT to remove their harness when in an Elevated Work Platform/Boom Lift.

If any of the workers failed to comply with the expectations 1-3 without having been told not to do that, is the contractor solely responsible?

There are specific duties for workers in the WHS Act 2011 that require them to take reasonable care that his or her acts or omissions do not adversely affect the health and safety of other persons. Implicit in this duty is not to make changes to plant or systems where they are not trained or licensed to make these changes.

There is only so many things a contractor can tell their workers NOT to do in addition to the how they want to them work safely.

Author: Ian Good
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