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Avoid the gaping hole in your safety management: Safety and working at heights

October 02, 2019

HIA has previously outlined the responsibility that a Principal Contractor, Business or Undertaking (PCBU) has to the health and safety of its workers in the workplace (read more here). With state governments around the country adopting or considering introducing industrial manslaughter laws, there being license implications for safety breaches in some states and injury to workers HIA members are encouraged the learn from recent safety incidents where workers have fallen from heights and to review their safety processes.

In the ACT a 16 year old school student fell 6 metres through an open void onto concrete resulting in a severe injury. The school student was part of a government program that involved work experience on building sites. The principal builder (1st tier contractor) had a subcontractor (2nd tier contractor) who further subcontracted out work (3rd tier subcontractor). It was this 3rd tier subcontractor who participated in the program and engaged the school students. The Principal Contractor did not know that they were students and were under the impression that they were apprentices.

The Principal builder, which was a family owned business, was found guilty for breaching their health and safety obligations.

The principle builder was held to have:

  • Failed to induct workers into the site;
  • Taken a ‘tick-and-flick’ approach to onsite inductions. When induction did occur, other than signing a few documents, there was no evidence in that it actually covered anything of substance. For example there was an exclusion zone on the site but the significance of this was not explained.
  • Failed to enforce Safe Work Method Statements between the builder and subcontractor. While they contained appropriate considerations they were not implemented. For example, it required that voids (if any) be temporarily covered by aluminium planks with flooring screwed on top of the planks. This was not done.
  • Failed to fix safety matters promptly. When the safety void was noticed rectification was not adequately actioned.

HIA members should consider whether any of these matters apply to their own workplaces.

The court found that this was a preventable incident. Members need to be aware that if they are the Principal Contractor on-site responsibility will, in almost every case, come back to them. A guilty convection and fine of $180,000 was recorded (read more about this case here).

Similarly in NSW a worker fell 6 metres through an open void resulting in serious injury to the worker. The subcontractor engaged to do the work was found guilty of breaching relevant health and safety legislation. In this case a few weeks before the incident a different worker almost fell through the void although that matter was not reported.

Many state and territories have specific codes of practice regarding working from heights. However, paperwork in place is only as good as its enforcement. If you are uncertain about how to achieve good safety outcomes you can also get assistance from HIA. Contact HIA Safety Services or your local Workplace Advisor on 1300 650 620 or via with your HIA membership number.

Workplace Health and Safety Regulator Websites

New South Wales
Northern Territory
South Australia
Western Australia