On September 3 2013 I will be on a panel in Sydney discussing issues associated with working at heights. Below is a media release (not yet available online) about the panel and some recent data on working at heights risks. The quotes are mine.
Inaction by policy makers is putting lives at risk and now, says a peak safety industry body, there are the numbers to prove it.
The Working At Heights Association (WAHA) will host a crisis summit on Tuesday at The Safety Show Sydney, where it will reveal that one in three roof anchors are unfit for use. Of the 3245 anchors audited by association members over the last three months, 2260 were deemed unusable.
Part of the problem, says WAHA secretary Gordon Cadzow, has been the lack of awareness of the number of inadequate safety systems on Australia’s rooftops.
“Falls from height are one of Australia’s biggest causes of workplace deaths but the statistics aren’t able to tell you whether inadequate fall prevention systems contributed to the final outcome,” Mr Cadzow explains.
Twenty Australians are killed at work by falls from height each year – a figure that has remained almost constant over the last eight years.
OHS commentator and author of the SafetyAtWorkBlog, Kevin Jones, says height safety is often overlooked.
“The ‘fails’ identified by members of WAHA are of great concern and shine a light on an area of construction and maintenance services that few of us ‘ground dwellers’ really consider or understand,” Mr Jones says.
Regulators, too, seem to have a blind spot when it comes to safe work at heights outside the construction industry, says Mr Cadzow.
“The regulators will tell you that the law mandates the job has to be done properly by a competent person,” Cadzow says. “The problem is that it’s not being policed.”
The alarming survey results offer a serious challenge for Safe Work Australia, regulators and OHS decision makers, says Kevin Jones.
“WAHA’s survey is trying to get us to look up and not only to look but to see,” Mr Jones says. “Working at heights is an acknowledged hazard in the construction industry but remains a ‘hazard in progress’ in others. WAHA’s data should start a safety conversation but the test of the survey’s value will be what solutions are offered. Discussion must always lead to action, particularly on safety matters.”
Gordon Cadzow desperately hopes Tuesday’s summit will bring change. Prominent OHS lawyer and author, Michael Tooma will facilitate public discussion and a panel of experts including representatives from WorkCover NSW, construction, international height safety bodies, the occupational health and safety sector and WAHA itself.
“Our association was established years ago after a fatality and we continue to dedicate our efforts to stop it happening again,” Mr Cadzow says. “There’s nothing like a death to make you think in a different way.”
The fall prevention industry crisis summit will include an open discussion and, at its conclusion, WAHA will ask for a show of support from the public. Attendance is free but organisers say seating is limited. [links added]
Some of my costs of getting to Sydney have been covered by Workplace Access & Safety. I am not a member of WAHA.