SafeWork SA is issuing a safety alert to remind the construction industry to assess whether a ladder offers the highest level of protection to workers after a person was killed and two were seriously injured in falls less than 2 metres over the past 6 weeks.
On 19 January 2022, SafeWork SA received notification that a worker suffered fatal head injuries when they fell to the floor while installing ceiling joists from a ladder within a warehouse. SafeWork SA is currently investigating the incident.
Two other workers have received serious injuries after falling from height.
The first incident occurred when a worker, traversing between two levels of a modular scaffold at a residential construction site, sustained fractures to their shoulder and a serious laceration to their left hand when the foot of the access ladder slipped out causing the worker to fall heavily on the platform. The scaffold access from level 2 to level 3 had been inadequately installed by the builder and not undertaken by a scaffolder holding a high risk work licence.
In the second incident, a worker, drilling holes for a down pipe at a residential construction site, fell from a ladder, impaling their left foot on an unprotected vertical reo bar. At the time of the incident the ground around the work area was uneven.
Reminder of duty holder obligations
Duty holders are reminded to consider reasonably practicable control measures to manage the risk of falls from heights, particularly providing adequate information, training and supervision when workers are required to use ladders.
Portable ladders are one of the least stable but most commonly used tools for working at heights and typically require workers to be more vigilant about the risk of falling.
Portable ladders can be a sensible and practical option for working at height when the use of other equipment is not reasonably practicable because of the low risk and short duration of the work.
Before choosing to use a ladder, you must identify whether a ladder offers the highest level of protection that is reasonably practicable. This is performed by assessing all known and potential risks associated with the use of the ladder, including the environment they are used in, and following the hierarchy of control for prevention of falls.
SafeWork SA Acting Executive Director, Glenn Farrell reminds duty holders that the type of work that can be safely performed on a ladder is limited. Work platforms or scaffolding provide a much safer way to work at heights.
“Deaths and serious life changing injuries through falling from ladders can occur from surprisingly low heights”.
“This is highlighted by the fact that in 2021, 61% of serious injuries associated with a fall below 2 metres were from a ladder. Most of these incidents involve a ladder being used incorrectly or inappropriately”.
“If a suitable safe system of work had been in place prior to the incidents, the serious injuries sustained by the workers could have been prevented”.
“Sadly, one of those workers will not be going home to his family as a result of falling from a ladder at work”.
Hierarchy of control for prevention of falls
In most cases, working from a ladder should be the last option as a fall from a ladder can have devastating consequences. Duty holders can, in accordance with the hierarchy of control:
- eliminate the risk by, where practicable, doing all or some of the work on the ground or from a solid construction
- use a passive fall prevention device such as scaffolds, perimeter screens, guardrails, safety mesh or elevating work platforms
- use a positioning system, such as a travel-restraint system, to ensure employees work within a safe area
- use a fall arrest system, such as a harness, catch platform or safety nets, to limit the risk of injuries in the event of a fall
- use a suitable fixed or portable ladder
- implement administrative controls.
Managing the Risk of Falls at Workplaces — Code of Practice
Managing risk of falls videos:
Falls from heights in the construction industry — 2020 snapshot