Workplace fall injuries are no laughing matter. Alarmingly, falling from a height is the number one cause of death in the construction industry.
It accounted for more than 12% of all worker fatalities in 2014.
What is of even greater concern, is that many workers continue to avoid using the proper fall protection equipment. Employees say that safety harnesses are too heavy, too hot, and get in the way of the job – so it is easier to just not use them.
In this article we take a look at the responsibilities of both employers and employees in preventing workplace falls and what claim options are open to an employee injured by a fall.
Workplace falls from any height can result in serious injury or even death. Statistics released by Safe Work Australia revealed that in 2012 falling from heights accounted for 29 worker deaths, with 8 of these attributable to falls from roofs.
In 2003-2011 the construction industry accounted for 37% of fall-related fatalities and recorded a fatality rate four times the overall rate in the 2008-11 period.
Other industries recording fatalities due to workplace falls from heights for the 2003-11 period included:
- In house construction – 14 fatalities
- Painting and decorating services – 13 fatalities
- Roofing services – 9 fatalities
- Fabricated metal product manufacturing – 9 fatalities
- Horse and dog racing activities – 9 fatalities
- Road freight transportation – 8 fatalities
Of these fatalities workers aged 45 years or over made up 70% of those who died following a fall from height. The highest fatality rate over the 2008-11 period was recorded by workers aged 65 years and over.
So what are the responsibilities of employers and employees in preventing workplace falls?
Employers have a duty to keep their employees safe at work. This extends to eliminating the risks of exposure fall injuries, and where this is not possible, to minimise the exposure as far as it is reasonably practicable.
This could be achieved by providing employees with proper safety equipment and devices. An employer must also provide information, instruction and training to those employees on how to use the safety equipment and devices.
Employers are also bound by the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011, which sets out the specific control measures that are required where there is a risk of a fall from certain heights.
Once the employer has taken all of the necessary steps and provided all the necessary safety equipment and devices, it is then up to the employee to use such in accordance with how they have been trained.
Employees also have a duty to take reasonable care for their own safety. Employees’ who do not comply with using the proper fall protection equipment, including their safety harness, are putting themselves at risk of sustaining serious injury.
They are also limiting their chances of succeeding in a claim for damages against their employer, as it is likely that they will be found to have contributed to their own injury.
However, accidents do occur that are through no fault of the employee. If an accident occurs and an employee is injured as a result of an employer failing to eliminate or minimise the risk of a fall, then that employee can bring a claim for damages against their employer.
Similarly, if the same employee dies then the dependants (typically the wife, husband, de facto partner and children) of the employee are entitled to a lump sum death benefit from WorkCover Qld. In addition, the dependants may also be able to bring a common law claim for damages against the employer if it can be proven that the death of the employee was caused by the negligence of the employer. In both situations, financial dependence or an expectation of financial dependence will need to be proven by the person bringing the claim.
Fall injuries are devastating for not only the injured worker, but also their family. It can place a physical, emotional and financial burden on the worker and their family – as recovering from an injury from a fall can be lengthy. A typical fall-related claim for compensation in 2012-11 involved 6.2 weeks of work, which is considerably longer than that of other serious injury claims.
An employer has a duty to keep their employees safe at work by preventing workplace falls. If they fail in this duty, then an injured employee can bring a claim for damages against them.
If your spouse, de facto partner, parent or guardian died at work then you may be entitled to a lump sum death benefit from WorkCover Qld, or in addition, you may be entitled to bring a death dependency claim against their employer for their wrongful death.
An employee too, has a duty to take reasonable care for their own safety by using all safety equipment and carrying out all safety procedures as trained. If employers and employees work together and all safe practices are followed this will go a long way in minimising the number of fall injuries and deaths.