11:26 am, Saturday 2 February, 2013
The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) released a safety alert in January this year on scaffolding safety.
A scaffolder was dismantling a scaffold structure located on an offshore platform about 15 metres over the sea. A vertical scaffolding tube or dropper that was holding him there moved.
Scaffold couplers were holding the tube in place but it began to slip with the weight of the worker and it pulled through the couplers.
He warned colleagues close by but they were unable to tighten the couplers before the scaffolder fell. The inertia reel harness that he was wearing at the time stopped his fall.
He was suspended above the ocean for approximately 7 minutes before being returned to the platform with a rescue winch.
When the incident was investigated it was found that the scaffolding coupler that had been securing the coupler in place was loose and the dropper tube did not have a check coupler fitted.
The investigation also determined that:
- The rescue equipment that was used was not appropriately rated for the weight of the scaffolder and scaffolding.
- Some of the rescue equipment certification was out of date.
Another inspection of the worksite also revealed that some of the fall protection devices were anchored to the bottom of handrail stanchions. The AS/NZS 1891 series standard for industrial fall arrest states that a minimum 15kN capacity for anchor points should be used.
What could go wrong?
The inertia reel harness stopped the scaffolder and dropped objects from falling several metres into the sea, which could have meant serious injury and potentially death.
The deficiencies in equipment rating, certification and regular inspection could have meant additional failures during the subsequent rescue.
- Good practice is to ensure that check couplers are installed above the suspension scaffolding coupler as per the AS/NZS 4576 Guidelines for scaffolding.
- A visual inspection of scaffolding should be conducted prior to use.
- A qualified person should inspect scaffolding on a regular basis.
- Equipment used must be within its certification period.
- Only appropriately rated safety equipment should be used for personnel.
- Suitably rated anchor points should be used for fall arrest equipment.
- The rescue plan should include a risk assessment for the worksite rather than a generic scaffolding plan being used.