One million reasons to prioritise the safety of workers at heights

As SafeWork NSW approaches the halfway mark on their 12-month safety blitz on falls from heights it has been revealed that over $900k in fines have already been issued. 

 

The ‘Working at Heights’ campaign was created following a rise in the number of serious injuries and deaths flagged as fall from heights incidents. The statistics speak for themselves with 17 people killed between 2018 and 2022. 

 

Recent data from the preliminary fatalities dashboard from SafeWork Australia only highlights the importance of the campaign with 2023 seeing a 15.8% increase in the number of preliminary worker deaths attributed to falls from a height when compared to the average worker deaths from the same mechanism over the past five years (2018-2022). 

Since the beginning of the campaign in May 2023, inspectors have visited over 1,200 worksites and have issued nearly 1,500 Improvement Notices, over 700 Prohibition Notices and over 350 Penalty Notices amounting to $972,000 in fines. 

 

Sites all over the state, including commercial and residential sites, have been visited in the blitz by inspectors. This is in addition to the high visibility checks in manufacturing and warehouse industries and the transport industry in the lead up to the festive period in 2023.

 

During the inspections, SafeWork NSW have reported that around 65% of the industry is using the highest form of safety measures when commencing work from heights. These measures include the use of fall prevention devices, such as roof guardrails and scaffolding, rather than fall arrest systems such as harnesses. 

 

Head of SafeWork NSW Trent Curtin commented, “while it is encouraging that 65% of industry is using the highest form of safety measures, this means that 35% are not and this needs to change. Otherwise, businesses run the risk of workplace accidents as well as fines and prosecution.”

“During one worksite blitz a SafeWork Inspector noted a worker who was not connected to a harness system while working on a roof. When questioned as to why they were not connected, the worker reasoned that they had been roofing for 30 years without an incident.

“Attitudes like this will eventually result in a workplace accident or death. This is simply unacceptable. SafeWork Inspectors will not hesitate to stop work on site, issue fines and consider prosecution against businesses and individuals disregarding the rules.”

 

SafeWork NSW is set to continue their safety blitz to prioritise the wellbeing of workers at heights through 2024 with further inspections and a new priority blitz on the safe installation of rooftop solar panels this month. 

 

PCBUs are obligated to protect workers through the identification of height risks and ensuring steps are taken to control these hazards as far as reasonably practicable. 

 

Other preliminary fatalities data for 2023 from SafeWork Australia revealed that of the 173 deaths recorded 64% of all deaths occurred in just 3 of the 19 listed industries: 

  • transport, postal and warehousing,
  • construction,
  • agriculture, forestry and fishing.

The below chart outlines the worker deaths by mechanism for preliminary worker deaths in 2023. 

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