Construction is big business in Australia, an industry that employs over a million workers according to the Department of Employment. Each of those workers faces daily workplace health and safety challenges on the job, with few as potentially harmful as injury from falling objects.
Research conducted by consumer comparison site Finder.com.au found that construction is considered the third-most hazardous industry in Australia, with over 11,000 reported injuries in 2013-14. Ensuring safe practices to minimise risks posed by falling objects is an essential part of WHS on construction sites, and a key step in reducing injury numbers.
Targeting falling object safety in Victoria
In an effort to promote safety, WorkSafe Victoria carried out a three-week blitz of construction sites in the state with a specific focus on falling building materials and equipment. With over 860 workers injured by falling objects in Victoria since 2010, WorkSafe Executive Director Health and Safety, Marnie Williams, commented on the urgency of the issue.
"We know that even a small tool or a bolt falling from a building site can cause life-threatening injuries. That's why every builder must assess their site throughout the day and identify materials or objects that could fall in or outside of the site boundaries," she said.
"Materials that are blown from structures by wind or tools and equipment knocked or dropped from ledges not only pose a risk to workers but the general public in the streets below."
"Even a small tool or a bolt falling from a building site can cause life-threatening injuries."
Responsibilities around falling object safety
While Safe Work Australia notes that consultation with workers is essential during every step of the risk assessment process, PCBUs must take control over management of those risks. Providing adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for all workers is a critical element of construction WHS.
In terms of implementing control measures, prevention is always better than cure. So far as is reasonably practicable, ensuring items that may present falling risks are adequately secured with netting or restraining bars is an effective measure. Regular checks of any potentially loose items must also be conducted, as even well-stacked and secured materials can be disturbed on the building site.
"Any object, no matter how small, can be deadly if it falls from a height," says Williams. "Builders need to constantly assess the work being undertaken to ensure these kinds of materials are secured."
Reducing injuries on the construction site takes a lot of planning and common sense, but by ensuring strict WHS measures are followed around falling objects, the risks can be easily minimised.