Spike in construction falls leads to safety warning

WorkSafe Victoria has urged the state’s construction industry to check fall prevention measures after one worker has died and several others have been injured in a recent spate of serious incidents.

The regulator is investigating the death of a 56-year-old worker after an incident at a residential construction site in Doncaster East.

It is understood the worker was pouring concrete when he fell more than two metres and sustained life-threatening head injuries, and the man subsequently died in hospital.

The death is the 11th confirmed workplace fatality for 2024, and there were 18 work-related deaths at the same time last year.

WorkSafe responded to a serious fall on a building site, making it four such incidents in nine days, and six in the previous three weeks.

  • A 28-year-old worker suffered serious spinal and head injuries, after falling 3.7 metres from a ladder at a construction site in Carrum Downs.
  • A day later, a 32-year-old working from first storey floor joists fell approximately three metres onto a concrete slab in Glen Waverley, sustaining head and shoulder injuries.
  • A 31-year-old worker was seriously injured after a three-metre fall while working from roof trusses at a building site in Brunswick East.
  • A 27-year-old carpenter was taken to hospital after falling 3.1 metres when a ladder slid out from under him at a construction site in Dromana.
  • A 53-year-old worker suffered back and pelvic injuries after falling from the second storey of a house under construction in Portarlington.

“A fall can happen in just seconds but the consequences can last a lifetime, including devastating injuries and loss of life,” said WorkSafe Victoria executive director health and safety, Narelle Beer.

“It might be easy to think that a tragic incident will never happen on your site, but if safety is not the top priority every day then the chances are high that it will.”

Nine workers died in Victoria last year as a result of a fall from height, including four in the construction industry.

More than 400 claims were also accepted from construction workers injured in a fall from height in 2023. Of those injured, 160 fell from ladders, 46 from steps and stairways, 31 from buildings or structures, 27 from scaffolding, and 13 from openings in floors, walls or ceilings.

Beer said WorkSafe inspectors had conducted more than 3,700 visits to construction sites so far this year, issuing more than 1,100 notices.

WorkSafe completed 39 successful prosecutions relating to the risk of a fall from height in 2023, with the courts imposing fines totalling more than $1.9 million.

To prevent falls from height, the regulator said employers should implement the highest possible measures from the five levels in the hierarchy of controls:

  • Level 1: eliminate the risk by, where practicable, doing all or some of the work on the ground or from a solid construction.
  • Level 2: use a passive fall prevention device such as scaffolds, perimeter screens, guardrails, safety mesh or elevating work platforms.
  • Level 3: use a positioning system, such as a travel-restraint system, to ensure employees work within a safe area.
  • Level 4: use a fall arrest system, such as a harness, catch platform or safety nets, to limit the risk of injuries in the event of a fall.
  • Level 5: use a fixed or portable ladder, or implement administrative controls.