OHS Offences – Object Fall from Height

Object fall from height incidents are incidents in which objects are dislodged from above ground level. Object fall from height incidents are also known as dropped object incidents. The following are examples of object fall from height incidents:

  1. Cartons stored in racking at height falling
  2. Equipment being moved with a crane at height falling
  3. Containers stacked on top of another falling
  4. Objects unloaded from truck at height falling
  5. Scaffolding at height collapsing and falling
  6. Brick wall at height collapsing and falling
  7. Road signage at height falling

Object fall from height incidents are significant incidents which have the potential to cause a fatality. Pursuant to section 37 of the Occupational Health & Safety Act 2004 (Vic) (‘OHSA’) an object fall from height incident which does not result in an injury or fatality is a reportable incident, if the incident exposes a person to an immediate or imminent risk to their health or safety.

OHS Duties

Pursuant to section 21 of the OHSA, employers have a duty to so far as is reasonably practicable provide and maintain for employees a working environment that is safe and without risks to health.

Pursuant to section 23 of the OHSA, employers have a duty to visitors, contractors and persons other than employees to not so far as is reasonably practicable to expose them to risks to their health and safety arising from the conduct of the employer.

In determining what is reasonably practicable, the Court will consider the factors stated in section 20 of the OHSA.

Penalty

The maximum penalty of an offence under section 21 of the OHSA is a fine of 9000 penalty units for a body corporate and a fine of 1800 penalty units for a natural person.

Assessing the Nature and Gravity of Object Fall From Height Offences

In OHS offences, the defendant is sentenced according to the gravity of the breach of duty owed under the OHSA and not according to the result or consequences of the breach.[1]  Therefore near hits or dangerous occurrence incidents which do not result in an injury or death can still result in significant punishment. Gravity of OHSA offences is measured by the following factors;

  1. the seriousness of the breach itself or the extent to which the defendant has departed from its statutory duty; and
  2. the extent of the risk of death or serious injury which might result from the breach.[2]

When assessing the extent of risk, the following factors are considered;

  1. the likelihood of the occurrence of an event as a result of the breach endangering the safety of employees or others; and
  2. the potential gravity of the consequence of such an event.[3]

Assessing the Extent of the Defendant’s Breach

The extent of the defendant’s breach in relation to object fall from height incidents should be assessed with consideration of the following:

  1. Assessment of the actual risk controls implemented by the defendant to control the risk of falling objects.
  2. Assessment of the controls that were reasonably practicable in the circumstances to control the risk of falling objects. Controls that may be reasonably practicable in the circumstances could include:
    • Eliminating or reducing objects stored or handled at height
    • Securing of loads to prevent falls
    • Eliminating or restricting pedestrians in the areas exposed to object falls
    • Providing overhead protection for areas at risk of object falls
    • Providing overhead protection for plant used in areas at risk of object falls
    • Reducing the weight stored or handled at height
    • Racking load capacity certification to determine the safe loading capacity of racking
    • Structure or plant load capacity certification to determine the safe load bearing capacity of the plant or structure
    • Inspections to identify unstable loads, damage and insecure loads
    • Safe storage procedures that prevent stacking of objects
    • Task observations to ensure compliance to risk controls
    • Documented safe working procedures for object fall from height tasks
    • Training of persons in safe working procedures of object fall from height tasks
    • Supervision of object fall from height tasks
    • Personal Protective Equipment – Head protection

For example, the extent of the defendant’s breach is arguably on the higher range if the defendant has implemented no risk controls to manage the risk from falling objects. Contrasted to a defendant who has implemented all of the risk controls that were reasonably practicable in the circumstances. The extent of the defendant’s breach is arguably on the lower range in the latter case.

Assessing the Extent of Risk 

To assess the extent of the risk of object fall from height incidents, the following should be considered:

The likelihood of an incident occurring as a result of that breach and the potential gravity of the consequences of that incident.  In determining this, the following factors should be assessed for object fall from height incidents:

  • Weight of the falling objects
  • Height of the falling objects
  • The area where the risk eventuated
  • The number of person(s) exposed to the falling objects
  • The total number of falling objects
  • The dimensions and composition of the falling objects

For example, the extent of the risk of death or a serious injury is arguably low if one carton weighing 2kg, fell from a height of 2 metres, in an area not accessible to persons.

Contrasted to a 1000kg steel beam dislodging from a height of 3 metres during unloading with numerous persons in the vicinity. Arguably the extent of the risk of death or serious injury is on the higher range in the latter case.

Importance of Risk Management

Risk management is essential for assisting employers to comply with their OHS duties. Employers should ensure detailed risk management is conducted of their workplace and business operations to ensure object fall from height risks are managed.

The risk management should include the identification of all hazards and risks, assessment of the risks and implementation of risk controls to manage the risks. Risk controls should be reviewed periodically to ensure they remain effective.

 


[1] DPP v Frewstal Pty Ltd [2015] 47 VR 660, 127.

[2] ibid 127.

[3] ibid 127.