• HVACR contractors routinely work from heights.
    HVACR contractors routinely work from heights.

Almost $1 million in fines have been issued at the halfway point of SafeWork NSW’s 12-month blitz on falls from heights.

The ‘Working at Heights in Construction’ campaign followed a concerning rise in the number of serious injuries and deaths attributed to falls from heights, resulting in 17 people killed between 2018 and 2022. 

Since May 2023, SafeWork Inspectors have visited 1,218 worksites resulting in 1,499 Improvement Notices, 727 Prohibition Notices and 352 Penalty Notices amounting to $972,000. 

Working from heights is a serious concern for the HVACR industry with contractors routinely working from rooftops and high rise buildings.

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

The report 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.

During their field work, SafeWork Inspectors gauged that 65 per cent of industry is using the highest form of safety measures as their first choice including the use of fall prevention devices, such as roof guardrails and scaffolding, rather than fall arrest systems such as harnesses. 

SafeWork will continue to prioritise the safety of workers at heights in 2024 with continuing inspections, starting off with a blitz on the safe installation of rooftop solar panels this month. 

The head of SafeWork NSW Trent Curtin said that during one worksite blitz a SafeWork Inspector noted a worker who was not connected to a harness system while working on a roof.

“When questioned as to why they were not connected, the worker reasoned that they had been roofing for 30 years without an incident,” Curtin said.

“Attitudes like this will eventually result in a workplace accident or death. This is simply unacceptable.”