Working at heights still poses the greatest risk of death in construction

Several serious falls on construction sites on the Gold Coast, serve as a timely reminder that safety is still the number one priority and still the leading cause of death in the construction industry with 1.03 deaths per 100,000 workers.

A worker was injured on the 11 July 2017 in Ashmore, when he fell through a non-structural, non-weight bearing polycarbonate sheeting (alsynite) from a roof to the floor 4m below.

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) head Dr Simon Blackwood said on 28 July 2017 that falls from heights is a serious issue in most industries, particularly construction.

"Falls from heights is the leading cause of death in the Australian construction industry – on average 25% of all fatalities – and accounts for 15% of injuries.

"In addition, 12% of deaths involve being hit by a falling object, which when these two are combined, 37% of all construction deaths are the result of a failure to control the risks associated with work at heights,” said Dr Blackwood.

About 1700 falls from height causing serious injury occur in Queensland each year, but despite representing less than 10% of the Queensland workforce, the construction industry accounts for more than 20% of these injuries with around 400 per year.

"The roofing and re-roofing trade is certainly one where things can go wrong at height. Not following simple safety guidelines and taking unnecessary risks is just not on,” said Dr Blackwood.

A Safe Work Australia report, which, looked at the construction industry found the areas that pose the greatest risk are:

  • house construction
  • painting and decorating services
  • roofing services
  • electrical.

The SWA report said that in addition to the high number of fatalities due to falls, each day, 21 workers lodged a workers' compensation claim for a falls-related injury and required one or more weeks off work, across all industries Australia-wide. A typical claim saw the worker off work for over six weeks.

WHSQ are currently in the courts following an investigation into the death of 62-year-old roofer Whareheepa Te Amo, who fell almost six metres to his death while working on the edge of a roof without protection in July 2014.

Family-owned businesses and their respective directors, brothers Peter Raymond Lavin and Gary William Lavin, are now involved in criminal proceedings.

If found guilty of contravening Section 19 (2) and/or s20 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, the Lavins face possible fines of up to $600,000 each and maximum jail terms of five years and their companies could be fined up to $3 million. 

Dr Blackwood believes these are Queensland's first category 1 prosecutions under work safety laws.

"In this case, appropriate safety equipment was available and on site. The tragedy is, had the available and correct controls been used, Mr Te Amo's death would not have occurred," Dr Blackwood said.

"There is no substitute for proper procedure and certainly no room nor reason for taking shortcuts."

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