Unauthorised workers modifying scaffolding can cause safety risks

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.
Friday, 5 August, 2022 - 10:45
Policy & legislation
Northern Territory

NT WorkSafe recently issued a warning to workers in the construction industry not to modify scaffolding if they are not authorised to do so.

Enquires into incidents involving scaffolding over the past few months have, in some instances, found the scaffolding was modified by subcontractors who felt the scaffolding inhibited their work.

In the latest incident, a worker on a Darwin construction site removed timber planks from scaffolding to facilitate the placement of formwork by a crane.

After removing the planks, the worker fell through the void they had created, but the worker caught hold of the remaining planks and avoided a fall of over three metres.

Other recent incidents include:

  • block layers working on a three-plus metre live edge after a subcontractor removed the scaffold railing; and
  • a hop-up collapsed when a worker stood on it after it was removed and incorrectly put back in place by subcontractors.

As scaffolding is meant to be a safe platform for working at height or used as fall prevention it is important that the structure is suitable for the task required.

The regulator strongly urged all workplaces using scaffolding to ensure the following measures are in place, and that they are effective:

  1. Undertake Hazard Identification, Risk Assessment and Control (HIRAC) beginning by identifying hazards related to risks of falls in the workplace using Managing the risk of falls in the workplace Code of Practice;
  2. Ensure all persons in the workplace have appropriate training and instructions necessary to protect them from risks to their health and safety; associated with working at heights;
  3. As part of the site induction, ensure all contractors and sub-contractors are aware that erected scaffolding must not be modified, only workers holding a scaffolding high-risk work licence may modify a scaffold;
  4. Ensure that contractors and sub-contractors have a clear method of requesting modifications to scaffolding if the structure is impacting their work.

Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU’s) were reminded that scaffolding from where a person or object could fall more than four metres must not be used until it has been inspected by a competent person, who has confirmed in writing that the scaffolding is complete.

If an inspection indicates that scaffolding or its supporting structure creates a risk to health or safety, the scaffolding or support structure must be reinspected after any repairs, alterations and additions are made or carried out on the scaffolding.