How safe is unsafe?

roofwork 01Across the street from an office in Melbourne, a pub is installing a roof area for entertaining.  The work has gone smoothly as far as one can see but the position of the platform ladder in the corner of the roof was curious. If someone was working from the ladder and wobbled, it would be possible to not only fall a couple of metres to the roof but perhaps over the roof’s edge to the pavement two storeys below.

The worker in the front of this picture was moving to erect another platform ladder towards the front of the roof.

roofwork 02The second picture shows the worker on that platform ladder.  Similar risks of wobbling and falling over the roof’s edge.

How safe is unsafe?  There is the potential for the worker to fall from the ladder to the street some distance below but he didn’t.   So was his positioning of the ladder and work undertaken safe?

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia
Categories construction, death, hazards, height, hierarchy of controls, ladder, OHS, risk, safety, Uncategorized, workplace

9 thoughts on “How safe is unsafe?”

  1. Likelihood and consequence must always be looked at with risk. The likelihood is low, but possible. The consequence is fatal if he goes over the edge, so very high/extreme. As such, I believe additional controls should be put in place. What does the companies SWMS/JSA say about working in such circumstances? Has the risk been identified? If not, the SWMS/JSA needs to be updated. If it is in the document, then are the controls adequate and are they being followed? If not, they need to be. The supervisor needs to be aware of the situation. I would approach the guys on the deck and ask the above. If they aren\’t aware of their SWMS/JSA, then they need to re read them and sign off on them. If the risk isn\’t in identified then it needs to be added and controls put in place. A risk assessment must be done prior to carrying out any work and any identified hazard eliminate, and if not possible controlled, normally using the hierarchy of control. Depending on the level of the safety culture of the guys doing the work, would depend on the approach. Your options would be to review their SWMS and then approach their supervisor, call them all in for a quick toolbox, approach the guy directly and ask him how he would be stopped from falling over the edge on the odd chance the ladder tipped. Make him come up with the answer. If he can\’t, stop the works until they work it out.

    In summary, as the consequence is too high, then extra controls should be put in place so I would deem it too unsafe.

  2. Hi Kevin, I think the question is still missing the answer. “How safe is unsafe?” Everything seems to be safer on the roof. The person has balanced well on the ladder with a fewer chances to wobble. But, what would be the case if he sneezes or scratches his either of feet? The measure of uncertainty tells us how safe is unsafe. I think zero harm policy would also be useless as it won’t save the person from earth quake. “Act of God” can’t be overlooked. I think 99% we can keep ourselves as well as workplace safe and the remaining 1% would always be unsafe. Do you agree?

  3. Kevin, I note Les\’ comments that the work practice is relatively safe, even though it looks unsafe. I do note that they are all wearing high visibility clothing and hard hats so all must be right with the world. I say this because I have noted in construction that the focus often seems to be on PPE and C even though the work practice looks unsafe.

  4. Leaving aside the \’tongue in cheek\’ responses above – I make the following observations based on the evidence of the second photo –
    1: the platform ladder has a wide base, giving it a very stable footing and which will reduce the likelihood of the worker working outside its centre of balance – hence minimising the potential for \’wobble\’.
    2: the worker appears to be working on an upright pole which further appears to be a fixture. The pole is on the side furthest from the edge of the roof to his left. If any instability is experienced, the pole will provide a reasonable opportunity to grab and stabilise.
    3: The ladder appears to be some distance from the edge of the roof in front of the worker, this along with the worker being on the side of the ladder away from that edge makes it unlikely that he will fall from that edge.
    For my money this specific instance appears to be \’relatively\’ safe. We can always make thing safer but would they then be \’reasonably practicable\’?
    I\’m not so sure about the other ladder which appears to be much closer to the corner and hence closer to the edge on both sides and does not have the proximity to an upright fixture as in the second photo.

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