Construction blitz targeted falls from height and asbestos

WorkSafe Victoria and SafeWork NSW recently conducted a cross-border inspection and compliance blitz in Echuca and Moama to help reduce the risk of falls and asbestos exposure in the construction industry.

Construction sites posed a range of safety challenges, which is why proactive inspections were a key part of boosting safety in the industry, said WorkSafe Victoria director of construction and earth resources, Matt Wielgosz.

“Since 2018, there have been 76 fatalities in construction, making it the deadliest industry in Victoria,” Wielgosz said.

“Falling from height is the most common cause of these deaths, so we make sure employers are aware of their duties when it comes to fall prevention.”

Construction workers also accounted for almost a third of all workers injured in falls from height, making up 2351 of the 7999 claims accepted by WorkSafe since 2018.

SafeWork NSW regional director construction services, Laurence Richey, also highlighted the dangers that falls from heights present to workers across the state, with 17 fatalities from falls on NSW construction sites since 2018.

“The vast majority of falls on NSW construction sites occur on ladders, incomplete scaffolds, falls from a truck, a roof edge or falling through fragile roof sheeting,” Richey said.

“We take a zero-tolerance approach to workers’ lives being placed at risk, and issue notices to improve work practices, stop unsafe work and on-the-spot fines for serious safety breaches.”

Construction work can involve the redevelopment or demolition of asbestos-contaminated sites. If inhaled, asbestos fibres can lead to diseases such as mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis.

“Asbestos could be present in many different forms on a construction site, including cement pipes, pits and insulation coatings on pipelines,” Wielgosz said.

Since 2018, WorkSafe prosecutions have seen 17 companies ordered to pay fines and costs totalling $235,520 for asbestos-related health and safety breaches.

Richey said that despite a nationwide ban on the use of asbestos being introduced almost 20 years ago, it is still prevalent on NSW worksites.

“Asbestos-related diseases are preventable, and inspectors will be reminding tradies to exercise extreme caution when working on homes or buildings built before the late 1980s as they may contain asbestos.”

Since 2018, SafeWork has issued a total of 143 fines for asbestos-related incidents totalling $496,642.