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An air conditioning contractor who died undertaking routine maintenance work fell 12 metres onto a concrete floor.

Workplace Health & Safety (WH&S) Queensland said early investigations indicate he was undertaking scheduled maintenance of air-conditioning ducts and was in the fresh air intake pre-conditioned outside air (PCOA) unit.

A co-worker returned to the area and found a void where a floor grate had been. He looked through the void and saw his colleague on the concrete floor below.

This particular PCOA is the only vent open to external, often hot and humid air, and as such is a high corrosion area. The man, who was in his 40s, suffered critical head injuries.

WH&S Qld said investigations are continuing.

A code of practice to manage the risk of falls in the workplace was introduced by WH&S Queensland on July 1, 2018.

The code is based on a national model code of practice developed by Safe Work Australia and provides a range of control measures to prevent or minimise injuries for anyone working at height.

It is also worth noting that the code of practice is admissible in court proceedings under the WHS Act.

“Processes must be in place to identify all fragile materials before any work at height commences,” WH&S said in a statement.

“Protection must be provided if there is a risk of falling through any area where the work is being done at height – such as vents within air-conditioning ducts.

“Every year there are more than 3200 accepted workers’ compensation claims for injuries associated with a fall from height.

“On average, three of these are fatal, while about half are for a serious injury with five or more days off work.”

In the last five years WH&S Queensland has issued 1725 prohibition, 1189 improvement and 45 infringement notices for issues involving a fall from height or the risk of a fall from height.

Since 2013 there has been 36 prosecutions involving falls, six of these involved workers falling through fragile surfaces or voids.

The fatality highlights safe access issues that have plagued the HVACR industry for many years.

Earlier this year the Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heating (AIRAH) prepared a report highlighting the problem.

It found contractors have trouble accessing plant on roofs and in roof spaces (e.g., condensing units), in ceiling spaces (e.g,. fan coil units) and in plantrooms and plant cupboards.

The plant is often (commonly) installed in inaccessible positions increasing risks for the service person undertaking maintenance.

"Working at heights presents fall hazards and appropriate safety solutions are often not provided or the solutions that are provided are inadequate and not used correctly," the report said.

Access for HVACR maintenance must be provided as part of the National Construction Code (NCC) building certification process, making it a legal imperative although this is not understood by all stakeholders in the building supply chain.

The report attributes access problems to poor planning and poor integration of HVACR plant and equipment into the overall building design process.

"Rooftop mounted equipment that is also located too close to the roof edge for example, or multiple rooftop units installed independently and without consideration of each other leading to erratic and hazardous electrical wiring and refrigerant piping distribution networks on the roof," it said.

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