Building and construction-falls
An apprentice carpenter was working on the third floor of a building site. He was not given a site induction and there was no fall protection or scaffolding. He fell more than 5 metres, headfirst, onto a concrete path. He required surgery to his arm, wrist, knee, jaw and face. He also suffered mild brain damage, short-term memory loss and loss of vision.
Falls are a common cause of death and injuries on construction sites, so it’s particularly important to know how to avoid them.
What causes falls?
- moving from one place or level to another
- the surface can’t take a load
- holes are not identified or covered
- no guard rails
- losing your grip on support rails
- slippery surfaces
- wrong footwear
- equipment, tools or rubbish is in the way
- ladders used incorrectly
- clothing gets caught
- lighting is poor
- weather conditions are bad
- being hit by an object
- fall arrest systems (safety harness) aren’t used or are used incorrectly
- exposure to chemicals or electricity
A fall can hurt your arms, legs, back, neck or head, break bones, damage your spinal cord, injure your brain and at worst kill you.
Types of falls
1. Falls from height
A long drop is obviously going to be dangerous so you need to have safe systems of work in place. These include:
- safe use of equipment
- correctly built scaffolding or other types of safe working platforms
- safe way of getting up to and down from the high work area
- guard rails, covers and other safety rails
- ladders in good condition
- anti-fall equipment (such as a safety harness)
Scaffolding can be dodgy if it is not erected properly. It needs to be put up by someone who knows what they’re doing (a competent person) so that it can be safely used by workers. Employers who don’t do this are breaking the law.
Never climb on the outside of mobile scaffolding as they are easy to overturn. Never ride on a mobile scaffold when it is being moved and make sure the wheels are locked when the scaffold is stationary. Never place ladders on the outside of the scaffold. Problems occur with mobile scaffolding when:
- access ladders are not placed on the inside of the scaffold
- wheels are not locked when the scaffold is stationary
- persons ride on it while it is being moved
Ladders can be dangerous if they are not repaired and used correctly. Your boss should make sure they are looked after and only used for light work or easy to reach places. You might think everyone knows how to use a ladder but check there is no damaged, loose or missing parts, that the ladder is properly put up and secure, that it goes at least 1 metre above the landing place, that it is propped up at 75 degrees and the ground is firm and level.
Brittle or fragile roofs are an obvious hazard area. Protective wire mesh needs to be used on roofs made of fragile materials and the work should be done from scaffolding or another work platform. Never stand on or walk across a roof made of fragile materials.
2. Falls into holes
Wire mesh and covers should be put over holes or shafts. Guardrails should be used on open edges such as stairwells. Signs should be put up to warn that there is a hole and that the cover should not be removed.
3. Slips and trips at same level
If you're going to fall on a construction site, you're more likely to slip up or trip over. This is because there are lots of uneven and slippery surfaces and lots of equipment and debris (rubbish).
Read more about working at heights.