Sydney scaffolding death prompts calls for safety review in the industry

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Photo: SafetyCulture Library

The death of an 18-year-old apprentice at a construction site in Sydney has prompted urgent calls for a safety review in the industry.

Christopher Cassaniti, 18, died on Monday afternoon after a 15-metre high scaffolding collapsed at a Macquarie Park building site. A 39-year-old man was rushed to Royal North Shore Hospital in a critical condition after being released from the rubble.

Statistics show five construction workers have been killed at work since the beginning of the year.

Mr. Cassaniti’s family said it was devastated by the loss.

“We ask that the government step in and take immediate action and implement stringent measures regarding safety on construction sites,” his family said in a statement.

“Crucial safety checks and procedures need to be at the front and centre of every construction site.

“We await the outcome of the investigation as to what went wrong.”

CFMEU construction and general, national secretary Dave Noonan described the incident as a “catastrophic failure of a scaffolding”

“The union has arranged counsellors,” he told ABC News. “Unfortunately [they] get called to these matters all too often.

“This tragedy, in particular, is causing a lot of trauma and grief right across Australia.

He said the union would monitor the investigations.

SafeWork NSW said it had launched an investigation into the circumstances of the incident.

“The outcomes of this investigation are expected to take some time to gather meaningful and constructive results,” Executive Director Tony Williams said.

“SafeWork will examine a range of factors including the qualifications of relevant workers, environmental conditions, the load carried by the scaffolding, as well as the design, construction, and maintenance of scaffolding.”

The safety regulator said it had issued a Prohibition notice to the construction company, preventing access to work on the ground floor and basement levels of the site.

SafeWork NSW said engineers were assessing whether the structural integrity of the crane, as well as the electrical supply to it, have not been affected by the collapse of the scaffolding. This is required before the crane can be reenergised to release its load.

“SafeWork NSW inspectors are visiting sites across the state to ensure that businesses understand the safety requirements involved in creating a safe environment for workers using scaffolding and working from a height,” SafeWork NSW said in a statement.

“Operation Scaf Safe is expected to run until September 2019. Penalties of up to $3600 may apply for exposing workers to risk of falls, or for carrying out scaffold work without a licence.”

According to a safety alert issued by SafeWork NSW in September 2018, to ensure scaffolding operations are undertaken safely, workers should-

  • Ensure the scaffold remains stable and supports the loadings imposed at all times.
  • Use a scaffold that is suitable for the tasks and construction process.
  • Ensure the scaffold can withstand any anticipated loads or forces – eg strong winds.
  • Ensure the scaffold is adequately tied to its supporting structure, in accordance with instructions from a competent person – if this is not possible, consult with the scaffold designer, manufacturer, supplier or an engineer.
  • Develop systems of work that allow construction activities, such as bricklaying, painting, rendering, glazing and cladding installation to be completed without unplanned changes to, or removal of, scaffold ties – eg work down from the top of a building as the scaffold is progressively dismantled, or tie the scaffold to its supporting structure so that it does not interfere with the work.
  • Ensure only competent persons with a relevant class of high-risk work licence for scaffolding undertake scaffolding work including making alterations to existing scaffolding.
  • Have a competent person who holds the same or higher class of high-risk work licence appropriate to the class of scaffolding regularly inspect the scaffolding ties and other scaffolding equipment, to ensure they have not been modified or altered by unauthorised persons.
  • Know the duty rating (light, medium, heavy or special) and a number of decks that can be loaded within a bay and don’t overload the scaffold – eg by storing scaffold components on decks when making alterations.
  • Provide all workers adequate information, instruction, training, and supervision regarding the control measures required to prevent the collapse of the scaffold.
  • Display warning signs to prevent unauthorised access to the scaffold when it is incomplete and left unattended.
  • Ensure the scaffold can’t be damaged by vehicles, plant, equipment or materials.
  • Prepare a safe work method statement.

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