Fall from height leaves electrician with broken ribs

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Wednesday, 18 January, 2023 - 12:15
Incidents & prosecutions
South Australia

SafeWork SA recently issued a warning about rooftop safety following an incident involving a fall that left an apprentice electrician with broken ribs in December 2022.

The third-year apprentice was installing a solar panel system on a single-storey house when he fell three metres while attempting to climb off the roof via an access ladder.

He fell onto a boundary fence and was taken to hospital by ambulance with six broken ribs and a bruised torso following the 21 December 2022 incident.

An initial SafeWork SA investigation found:

  • workers on site were installing the solar panel system while wearing harnesses
  • the apprentice was not attached to the rope when climbing down from the roof.
  • perimeter guard railing was not installed on the working faces of the roof
  • the Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) for high-risk construction work, listed ‘guard railing’ as a control measure but this was crossed out

Falls from heights is the number one cause of notifiable serious injury on South Australian construction sites, with most serious and fatal falls being from roofs, ladders or non-compliant scaffolds.

The SafeWork SA 2021 Health and Safety Snapshot relating to falls from heights identified that workers on a roof received the most serious injuries.

In the December incident, there was a risk of serious injury or death to workers because the company failed to provide safe access on and off the roof and install a perimeter guard railing across the working face of the roof.

Instead, the company relied on a lower-order control measure to manage the risk of falls by allowing workers to use a fall restraint device.

All builders and contractors have duties under work health and safety laws to ensure their workers are safe when working from heights, said SafeWork SA acting executive director, Dini Soulio.

“Falls should be controlled using a fall prevention device, such as covers, temporary edge protection and scaffolding. A harness-based system is only to be used when higher order controls are not reasonably practicable,” he said.

“Businesses that sell, design and install solar systems have duties to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe for every worker. No solar installer should be working on a roof without adequate fall protection in place.”