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‘Small Falls’ Can Still Destroy Lives

4 September 2012

‘Small Falls’ Can Still Destroy Lives

The Labour Group of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is warning the construction industry that any fall from height is a dangerous fall, and says the industry must change its behaviour if the injury rate is to come down.

“The numbers of reported incidents of falls from height is still a real problem. Across the construction industry the cost of these falls is estimated to be more than $24 million a year – to say nothing of the human cost,” says the Labour Group’s Programme Manager – Harm Reduction, Francois Barton.

“What is of most concern to the Labour Group is the belief in some areas of the construction industry that falls from three metres or less are ‘small falls’ and nothing to worry about.”

“This is far from the truth. On a weekly basis our inspectors deal with cases such as this, which in some cases have left people with life-changing injuries. In a recent accident an apprentice was paralysed from the neck down after he fell three metres from a roof.”

“There is a perception in the industry that dangerous activities such as walking the top plate without any controls in place is ‘just part of the job’ or a ‘rite of passage’ for builders, and this needs to change. Just because it’s been done that way in the past doesn’t mean these unsafe practices should continue. Quick jobs at low-levels are just as likely to cause serious injury and workers must take precautions.”

More injuries happen on residential building sites than any other workplace in the construction sector.

Factors contributing to injuries sustained from working at height include:
• lack of or inadequate planning and hazard assessment
• inadequate supervision
• insufficient training for the task being carried out
• incorrect protection or equipment choices
• incorrect use or set-up of equipment including personal protective equipment
• unwillingness to change the way a task is carried out when a safer alternative is identified
• suitable equipment being unavailable.

Reducing the number of injuries caused by falls from height is a top priority for the Labour Group and this work is being carried out through the Preventing Falls from Height project.

The project uses education and enforcement in order to target dangerous and unsafe working practices.

For more information about preventing falls while working at height and about the Best Practice Guidelines for Working at Height in New Zealand, visit or call the Labour Group on 0800 20 90 20.


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