Falls remain top work risk: Safe Work Australia

Working from heights remains the leading cause of fatalities and serious injuries in Australian workplaces, according to Safe Work Australia data.

Falls from heights, which is also a key risk in mine activities, accounted for 122 fatalities, or 13 per cent of worker fatalities in Australia during the past five years.

Of these, 11 per cent of these fatalities occurred during the 2019-20 financial year while falls, trips and slips accounted for 26,000 serious injury claims.

In the previous financial years of 2009-10 and 2018-19, serious workers’ compensation claims as a result of falls from heights declined by 17 per cent.

Safe Work Australia stated that a combination of control measures and risk elimination was the best solution to minimise the risk of falling from heights to the “lowest level reasonably practicable”.

“If you manage or are in control of a workplace, you have a responsibility to eliminate or minimise the risk of falls from heights,” Safe Work Australia stated.

“Eliminating the risk may include working on the ground or on a solid structure.

“Minimising the risk may involve using fall prevention devices, for example fences or edge protection, work positioning systems (like) an elevating for platform or (using) fall arrest systems (such as) safety nets and harnesses.”

The Western Australian Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS) has identified handrails that are in poor condition as a key risk for falling from heights in the mining sector.

In the case of delayed or incomplete maintenance and inspection of faulty handrails, workers may be exposed to increased risks of falling from heights.

“Workers are exposed to additional risks when handrails are modified locally and/or are increased in height,” DMIRS stated.

“These modifications create a misleading sense of safety and expose workers to increased risks of falling from heights.”

DMIRS recommends that handrails are installed, inspected and maintained by a competent person, as per original equipment manufacturer (OEM) specifications and requirements for that site.

It also added that rust and corrosion should be recognised, as should areas of a handrail when its performance has been compromised.

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