Importance of Fall Protection when working from Scaffolding

When it comes to scaffolding safety most people think the greatest risk is presented by collapse of the scaffolding or its elements themselves but slips, trips and falls are also a serious threat to workers when they are operating from any height.

Recently 2 construction workers on a Hong Kong building site fell more than 50 storeys after the scaffolding they were standing on broke into 2. The workers were killed while engaging in renovation work on the site.

Construction was taking place on a residential building in an upscale neighbourhood in Hong Kong when the tragedy took place.

According to reports when fire officers arrived at the scene, the suspended scaffolding which was at the 56th floor of the building was broken and half of it had fallen to the platform a few storeys down.

One worker died when he hit the platform while another apparently fell all the way to the ground and was found dead in a nearby drain.

According to the reports another male victim was found on the ground who had been struck by the falling parts of the scaffolding. He sustained injuries to his hands as a result.

The 2 other workers involved in the incident, one male, one female victim were killed instantly.

The incident is currently under investigation particularly because construction accidents are a relatively uncommon occurrence in Hong Kong where similarly to Oz, there are strict workplace safety laws in place.

A problem linked to the construction industry in Hong Kong is that the city is densely populated which necessitates the construction of high rise buildings to accommodate their housing needs. High rise building construction presents a number of hazards which can be deadly if unaddressed.

According to the country’s Federation of Occupational Safety and Health Associations, there have been 8 fatal construction related accidents this year whereas last year there were just 24 overall, according to the association’s president this indicates that safety in the industry is an “area of growing concern”.

As he points out renovation work is popular in Hong Kong especially because it has so many old buildings. Like in Oz there are strict safety regulations in place but similarly to what we experienced here a lot of the time, these regulations aren’t always adhered to.

Interestingly he highlighted the need for more training for employees as a means of reducing construction accidents and in particular the increasingly high number of construction related deaths.

In Australia we are fairly lucky in the construction industry because safety training is a mandatory requirement for anyone working on a construction site, whether they are directly involved with construction work or not. Without this mandatory basic construction safety training, the number of accidents on construction sites throughout Oz would presumably be much higher, as would the rate of workplace fatalities.

The training covers a variety of safety topics that are most prevalent to construction sites, one of which being work from heights and fall hazards. It is also important to note that this is the number one cause of injuries on construction sites, not just in Oz but globally which is why it forms such an important part of General Construction Safety Induction training also known as White Card training.

When working on scaffolding (or any height), regulation requires an approved safety system be implemented, including guardrails, scaffolding and fall protection. If these measures do not sufficiently reduce the risk workers should be equipped with proper safety harnesses. However having the proper measures in place in not sufficient enough to prevent an accident, workers utilising these controls need to be aware of them and adequately trained to use them efficiently.

Typically falls on construction sites result from using unsafe or incomplete scaffolds which is why in addition to ensuring fall protection, employers or those in charge of the scaffold should make sure that the structures are regularly inspected and maintained.

Another reason why such caution is necessary when working with scaffolding is because they also represent a significant risk to the public, perhaps even more so than some other construction hazards. In addition to causing damage and destruction to property, falling scaffolding elements can injure or even kill passing pedestrians, motorists or other workers – which is why maintenance is so crucial.

This incident in Hong Kong comes just weeks after a similar accident took place on a Sydney construction site. Three workers were injured when a scaffolding collapsed at a Mascot site. The scaffolding was apparently being dismantled when it collapsed, causing serious injuries to one of the workers and injurying another 2. Around 100 people had to be evacuated following that incident.

Although scaffolding is a crucial element of high rise construction in particular, it can become very dangerous when the proper controls aren’t implemented or when workers don’t adhere to the regulations. It is up to employers to ensure that all those involved in work with or from scaffolding have been adequately trained and are provided with the necessary PPE and the scaffolding platform is safe to work from.