Safety Alert

SAA Safety Alert – Worker seriously injured by falling scaffold plank

safetyscaffoldsafetyalert

This safety alert was issued by Worksafe Qld and the original can be found here

Worker seriously injured by falling scaffold plank

In October 2023, a worker suffered serious injuries after being struck by a scaffold plank at a construction site.

Initial investigations indicate scaffolders were working on the building’s scaffold, when a gust of wind appears to have uplifted an unsecured scaffold plank, causing it to fall 8 levels to the ground below.

At the same time the plank fell, a worker was collecting formwork equipment from the base of the building when he was struck on the head by the falling plank.

Safety issues

The erection, alteration, use and dismantling of a scaffold exposes workers and others to the risk of being struck by falling objects such as scaffold components, tools, or in the event of a collapse, the entire scaffold.

Hazards associated with erecting, altering or dismantling a scaffold include but not limited to:

  • poor environmental conditions
  • void areas not identified or protected (e.g. ladder access voids)
  • incomplete scaffolds or loose scaffold components where work is being done, or is likely to be done
  • inadequate training, instruction and supervision of scaffold workers.

Small objects, such as bolts and concrete aggregate, falling from a height can cause serious injury.

Ways to manage health and safety

Effective risk management starts with a commitment to health and safety from those who manage the business. If an incident occurs, you’ll need to show the regulator that you’ve used an effective risk management process. This responsibility is covered by your primary duty of care in the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

Use the hierarchy of controls to help decide how to eliminate and reduce risks in your place of work. The hierarchy of controls ranks types of control methods from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest. It’s a step-by-step approach to eliminating or reducing risks. You must work through the hierarchy of controls when managing risks, with the aim of eliminating the hazard, which is the most effective control.

Possible control measures to prevent similar incidents

The principal contractor for a construction project, or the persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) with management or control of a construction site, has the ultimate responsibility for ensuring systems are in place to maintain a safe work environment on the scaffold and each PCBU using the scaffold leaves the scaffold without risks to health and safety.

The Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 requires the principal contractor for a construction project or PCBU to the manage risks to health and safety associated with an object falling. The control measures that are implemented should firstly aim to prevent objects from falling, but equally prevent injury if an object has fallen. Controls should be applied at the source to prevent objects from falling to eliminate the risk. This is the most effective control to prevent injury or death caused by falling objects.

Effective control measures for falling objects relating to scaffolding are often made up of a combination of controls. Examples of common risk control measures can include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Using perimeter containment screening to prevent objects from falling, where practicable (this is mandated by the WHS Regulation for certain situations)
  • As soon as an additional scaffold lift is erected (i.e. 2 metre high) and scaffold planks are installed, the perimeter containment screening should be installed at that height to reduce the risk of planks dislodging (i.e. uplift from wind is reduced)
  • Where planks are provided with a latch to prevent uplift, the latch should be engaged at the time of installation
  • Stacking of loose planks on decks should be avoided
  • Using barriers to cordon off areas where there is a risk of being hit by falling objects
  • Using catch platforms, overhead gantries and safety nets, where practicable
  • Scaffold planks should be secured as described in the Scaffolding code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.63 MB). In addition, planks should:
    • comply with AS 1577 Scaffold planks
    • have a slip-resistant surface
    • not be cracked or split
    • be of uniform thickness
    • be captive (i.e. cannot be kicked off)
    • in cyclone prone areas be secured against uplift during cyclone season.
    • be positioned so that no single gap between planks exceeds 25 mm and the total gap between all planks does not exceed 50 mm.
  • Use mechanical hoists to move materials.

Develop a safe system of work for managing the risk of falling objects. This could include, but is not limited to:

  • Clear signs warning people not to access the hazardous area. They can be used to highlight areas where work is being carried out overhead and there is a risk of falling objects. See Figure 1. Also providing supervision of exclusion zones so no unauthorised people enter.
Figure 1: No go area sign
  • Developing safe work procedures that describe the task, identify the hazards and document how the task is to be performed to minimise any risks associated with falling objects. Consider the proximity of workers to unsafe areas where loads are placed on elevated working areas and where work is being done above people and there is a risk of falling objects.
  • If high risk construction work is to be carried out, the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 requires that a safe work method statement (SWMS) is prepared before the proposed work starts. All duty holders involved in a high risk work activity must make sure the work is carried out in accordance with the SWMS.
  • Providing information, training and instruction to workers and others at the workplace advising them of the exclusion zones in place.
  • Organising and sequencing of work tasks – you can sequence jobs so different trades are not working above or below each other at the same time.
  • PCBU’s must also consult with workers whose health and safety is likely to be affected (consultation must be regular and ongoing).
  • Materials should not be dropped from a scaffold. When passing scaffolding from one level to another, this should be done internally within the scaffold, unless suitable exclusion zones are maintained.
  • Consult with all relevant parties before work starts. Sometimes a PCBU may share responsibility for a health and safety matter with other PCBU’s who are involved in the same activities or who share the same workplace. In these situations, the PCBUs must exchange information to find out who is doing what and work together in a cooperative and coordinated way so that all risks are eliminated or minimised as far as reasonably practicable.
  • Implement good housekeeping practices by ensuring items are cleaned up and kept away from edges and stairways. Particular attention in working areas should be given to prevent objects falling onto access ways below.

Depending on the task, any remaining risk must be minimised with suitable personal protective equipment. For example; hard hats; gloves; protective footwear; eye protection; high visibility clothing.

The control measures you put in place should be reviewed regularly to make sure they work as planned.

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