Scaffolding incident a warning to industry – know your obligations

A company in Victoria accused of breaching safety laws, in failing to conduct monthly inspections of scaffolding, has responded to a serious fall by employing an OHS compliance officer, overhauling its OHS register and entering a $55,000 undertaking.

In 2017, a worker was inspecting the eaves at a Victorian construction site, controlled by TS Constructions Pty Ltd, when he fell more than three metres through a gap in the scaffolding, where two planks had been removed. He suffered broken facial bones and a broken wrist.

It was later found that the TS site foreman recalled the planks being moved by bricklayers, probably so they could access a window area, but failed to conduct a follow-up inspection to ensure the planks were replaced.

TS was charged with breaching the State OHS Act and Regulations in failing to ensure the scaffold was complete and safe by properly inspecting it at least once every 30 days and failing to ensure no work was performed from incomplete scaffolding.

WorkSafe Victoria accepted TS’s bid to enter an enforceable undertaking, in lieu of prosecution. The regulator heard the company responded to the painting worker’s fall by engaging a compliance officer with extensive experience in the construction industry, whose primary role was overseeing the company’s safety policies and procedures and ensuring best practice performance of the company’s OHS compliance.

TS engaged external entities to review its OHS management system, while also updating and expanded its AS/NZS 4801-accredited OHS register. The company rolled out additional safety training to supervisors and contractors, invited WorkSafe representatives to provide relevant OHS updates at quarterly meetings, and, in the space of twelve months conducted almost 150 site compliance inspections.

With scaffolding safety such a serious issue in our industry, another jurisdiction is conducting ‘Operation Scaff Safe 2019’. SafeWork NSW is targeting scaffold compliance across all sectors of construction. They are looking to ensure scaffolds are built to Australian Standards and are not missing components; those erecting, dismantling or altering scaffolds (where the risk of an object or person falling is 4 metres or more) hold the correct HRW scaffolding licence, and scaffolds remain safe and compliant throughout the build process.

On-the-spot fines of up to $3,600 may be issued to PCBUs placing workers lives at risk by not protecting them from falls from heights, or for those conducting high risk work without a licence (this includes scaffolding work where a person or object can fall more than 4 metres).

SafeWork Australia has a guide that provides information on how to manage risks associated with scaffolds and scaffolding work at a workplace. It is supported by guidance material for specific types of scaffolds and scaffolding, suspended (swing stage) scaffolds, scaffold inspection and maintenance, and advice for small businesses and workers on managing the risks associated with tower and mobile scaffolds and related scaffolding work.

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