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Falling objects – Don’t fall short of your duty to reduce the risk

Falling objects can pose serious safety hazards and sometimes can be fatal.

As an employer you have a strict duty to minimise any risks of falling objects hitting people in your workplace.

If you fail in your legal obligations you can face tough penalties.

Below are outcomes of recent legal cases where companies have breached health and safety laws.

Bosevski v Avopiling Pty Ltd; The Workers’ Compensation Nominal Insurer v Avopiling Pty Ltd (2018)
Cost: about $3.3 million Case: A contractor working on a construction site was hit with a hook and chain that fell from a pile-driving rig, causing him skull fractures and severe brain injuries. The business was found to have failed to take appropriate precautions. Penalty Fines and costs totalling about $3.3 million. (This was later reduced by around $248,000 after the company appealed.)
SafeWork NSW v Newcastle Stevedores Pty Ltd (2016)
Cost: $150,000 Case: A worker was killed after climbing on a set of aluminium ingot packs that fell on top of him. The company did have extensive risk assessment systems, but they were not properly enforced. Penalty As risk assessments had been undertaken and other safety features were in place, the business was fined $150,000 for its first offence.
Specialised Concrete Pumping Victoria Pty Ltd at Melbourne County Court (2018)
Cost: $500,000 Case: A worker was crushed to death by a large concrete tube when it slid off forklift tynes. The company was charged with failing to provide and maintain a safe system of work and failing to provide information, instruction or supervision under the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004. Penalty $500,000 fine for both charges.
SafeWork NSW v Tamex Transport Services Pty Ltd (2016)
Cost: more than $300,000 Case: A dislodged freight cage door fell from a forklift, hitting a truck driver in the head and causing him to suffer a skull fracture, traumatic brain injury, deafness in one ear and dental and back injuries. The company had failed to put a number of safety measures in place. Penalty Over $300,000 in fines and prosecution costs.
Unrecorded case at Toowoomba Magistrates Court (2018)
Cost: more than $61,000 Case: An apprentice welder working at a transport depot was hit by a steal beam falling from a crane, causing him serious injuries. The company did not have an exclusion zone separating the two work activities. Penalty No conviction was recorded, but the company was fined $60,000 plus court costs of about $1100.
W.K. Marble and Granite Pty Ltd at Melbourne Magistrates Court (2017)
Cost: about $104,000 Case: A storeman was crushed by almost two tonnes of porcelain sheeting. The company was found to have failed to provide its employees with adequate information on how to work safely. Penalty $90,000 fine plus $13,728 costs.

And the list goes on…

The risk of falling objects is such a serious safety concern that in February this year, WorkSafe Victoria conducted a three-week health and safety blitz on construction sites. Its executive director stated: “each year [we investigate] serious injuries and countless near-misses involving falling objects … even a small tool or a bolt … can cause life-threatening injuries”.

But the dangers of falling objects in the workplace aren’t just limited to construction sites, or freight depots and warehouses.

Falling object hazards can be lurking everywhere.

People who work in any of the following surroundings must be especially vigilant:

  • storerooms and other storage areas;
  • food processing and manufacturing;
  • outdoors at night, or in poorly lit areas;
  • hard-to-access areas;
  • crowded premises; and
  • new environments where external contractors or new workers are present.

The risk of death or serious injuries from falling objects is just one among many health and safety risks you must address.

And while safety is everybody’s responsibility, if an accident happens, the employer will often pay the price — a price they wouldn’t have to pay if they knew exactly every step they had to take to identify workplace hazards and address them.

Don’t be the next company on the ongoing case law list.

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