Safety alert issued after workers fall through plaster ceilings

WorkSafe Victoria recently issued a safety alert reminding employers about managing the risk of falling through plaster ceilings.

The alert was issued after several construction workers have fallen from roof spaces recently. In separate incidents, two workers fell through plaster ceilings while working in roof spaces, while another lost balance while standing on roof trusses. They all sustained serious and life-threatening injuries.

Falls are a leading cause of fatalities and serious injuries on Victorian construction sites, and they often occur because there are inadequate or no fall prevention controls in place.

Hazards associated with working in roof spaces include, but are not limited to:

  • Using trusses for foot placement. Trusses may be hidden from view and may cause the worker to step on plaster.
  • Lack of lighting that obstructs clear visibility.
  • Brittle or damaged ceiling structure and materials.
  • Poor planning and hazard identification not being carried out prior to undertaking work in roof spaces may result in workers making unnecessary trips through the spaces and may increase the risk of falls.

The alert said employers must, so far as is reasonably practicable, identify all tasks that an employee is required to undertake at a workplace that involves a fall hazard. This includes, but is not limited to:

  •  the construction, demolition, inspection, testing, maintenance, repair, or cleaning of any plant or structure
  • working on fragile, slippery, or potentially unsafe surfaces

using equipment to gain access to an elevated level

A competent person should inspect roof areas to identify potential falls risks, while access and the range of movement within the roof space should also be assessed.

An assessment of the ceiling should help identify cracks, holes, mould, water damage and rotten timber, according to the alert, which said this may reveal the structure is unsafe to perform work until repairs have been completed.

Materials such as nails and adhesive glues are used to affix ceiling plaster to battens or trusses, but these materials are not designed to carry extra weight.

The alert said a combination of risk control measures may be required in ensuring the health and safety of employees, and ways to control risk may include:

  • Do not step on ceiling materials (i.e. plasterboard or gyp sheeting).
  • Lay crawl boards (of suitable size and material) across joists.
  • Improve lighting conditions using battery-powered work lights.
  • Project manage the work to minimise the requirement to access the roof space.
  • Ensure there is 2-way communication with workers who may undertake work within the ceiling space.