In mid-February of 2019, WorkSafe Victoria announced a blitz on dropped objects at construction sites across the state. As part of their regular and randomised inspections, WorkSafe inspectors will be focusing on ensuring appropriate risk control measures to prevent dropped objects are in place at worksites, helping to reduce the chance of serious injury or death.

This blitz comes in the wake of several incidents across Victoria, including several in highly built-up urban areas. In January of 2019, a piece of timber fell 22 storeys while being lifted into a loading bay at a Southbank construction site. In the same month, a piece of MDF sheeting fell out of an open window and dropped 63 storeys above busy Little Latrobe St.

GRIPPS is pleased to see the Victorian regulator take steps to ensure the safety of workers across the state from dropped objects, especially as the often-fatal consequences of a lack of adequate risk control measures becomes more widely known. In September of 2018, a man was killed and another seriously injured at a Box Hill construction site after a kibble of concrete fell from a crane. The need for a coordinated approach by national and state/territory regulators is sorely needed.

A widespread problem deserving national attention

The Box Hill concrete kibble fall is just one tragic incident on a single worksite – GRIPPS knows all too well that the problem is general across the industry. In 2017, falling objects killed 15 workers across Australia, making them the fourth most deadly mechanism of injury after vehicle collisions, being struck by laterally moving objects and falls from heights.

Despite the very real risk posed by dropped objects to workers on jobsites across the country, the guidance provided by regulators to manager this risk is thin and vague. The Model Work Health and Safety Regulations released by Safe Work Australia does provide some information on dropped objects, but only provides a few examples of appropriate risk control measures. In the January 2019 update (p. 62), the suggested measures are limited to:

    1. Providing a secure barrier.
    2. Providing a safe means of raising and lowering objects.
    3. Providing an exclusion zone persons are prohibited from entering

While it can be argued that Model Work Health and Safety Regulations are not intended to be comprehensive – being intended to guide the creation of state and territory regulations – their content represents the overall focus of Australia’s top safety regulators. As such, the fact that the document provides so little guidance for site safety officers speaks to a lack of direction on this issue.

Furthermore, Safe Work Australia does not provide much in the way of additional guidance on dropped object prevention in other documents. The only more specific guidance available on the Safe Work Australia website is a factsheet from 2012. This factsheet provides some additional information, but its age and the lack of follow up on the part of Safe Work Australia indicates a lack of focus on this issue.

A lack of specific direction

This same lack of guidance can be seen at the state and territory level. Several state and territory regulators have provided their own advice on mitigating and eliminating the risk of injury or death caused by dropped objects. In many cases – as a direct effect of the implementation of model WHS laws – state and territory legislation is no more descriptive than guidance provided by Safe Work Australia.

As such, the quality and nature of this advice ranges from vague and solely focused on an individual trade as in South Australia to adequate but incomplete in the case of Victoria. Similar issues persist in guidance provided by Tasmania (p. 15), New South Wales, Queensland and the ACT. Contractors and site safety officers across the country are frequently left in the dark about how best they can protect themselves and their teams, leading to unacceptable gaps in safety measures.

In all cases, the risk control measures suggested only become effective once the object has already left the control of the responsible employee. These include debris netting, exclusion zones, toeboards, railings and other measures.

Where these measures fail is that they mitigate the risk, rather than eliminate it. Dropped objects can bounce over toeboards and through railings, deflecting off parts of the structure to miss debris netting and landing outside exclusion zones or exterior to the worksite.

Build the workplace your team deserves

What’s needed instead is a revaluation of how tradespeople around the country assess and manage the risk of dropped objects. GRIPPS is at the forefront of this effort, delivering education and equipment to help businesses prevent tool drop incidents all together.

If you’d like to learn how we can transform the way you keep your team safe, browse our range today or make an enquiry about our revolutionary Target: Zero Drops strategic safety education and implementation program at targetzero@gripps.com.au.