Falls from as low a 2 metres have been fatal in New Zealand workplaces in the last 18 months. Gravity means there is no second chance if we cut corners.

A Christchurch company has been sentenced after one of its workers was seriously injured when the telephone pole he was working on broke due to below ground rot.

At the Christchurch District court today Independent Line Services Limited was fined $30,000 for its role in the accident in Governors Bay on 7 April 2009.

The case highlights the dangers of working at heights and the importance of checking for defects in these types of poles says the Department of Labour.

The pole broke as the employee was climbing down. He jumped approximately five metres to avoid the falling pole and ladder, fracturing his pelvis and injuring his left ankle.

The employee was seriously injured and was extremely lucky to survive a fall from such a height says Department of Labour Christchurch Service Manager, Margaret Radford.

“Our investigation revealed that while procedures were in place, they weren’t followed, and the employee was not properly supervised. If Electricity Industry Standards were followed, the accident would probably not have happened,” Ms Radford says.

“The pole broke below the ground. Proper testing would have revealed the existence of rot in the pole. Following the earthquake and the continuing aftershocks, it’s even more important that companies properly test these poles above and below ground.

“Working at heights is a hazardous activity and the risks need to be carefully managed.”

Dave Griffith’s Comment
The crucial observation here is that “procedures were in place, they weren’t followed”. Many businesses operating today established robust health and safety policies and procedures in the first decade following the introduction of the Health and Safety in Employement Act 1992.

After the initial rush for compliance was over, many organisations have cut back on the resources for maintaining health and safety systems. Complacency set in and feeling of “we have got that compliance issue sorted – time to move on now”.

The thing about health and safety in the workplace though is it needs constant attention to become firmly embedded in a workplaces culture.

The organisation I am working for at the moment is undergoing a review of our contractors health and safety policies and procedures as part of the updating of our preferred contractors list for health and safety. I have been surprised that some of the documentation I have looked at has not been reviewed for several years and in some cases never implemented.

The common thread is a contractor has gone on a course a few years back about health and safety. As part of the course they have been given a template of health and safety policies and procedures to help make them compliant. For many of them this was the last time they have looked at the folder. While most of their practices on the job are good. If it came to an accident they would be hung out to dry by the Department of Labour. Or perhaps just hung.

Having compliant health and safety policies and procedures on paper is not enough in todays workplace. They have to be an integral part of the way a business functions. Anything less and there is the potential for six figure fines and awful publicity. That all pales into insignificance if a worker loses their life or is disabled.

With courts taking an increasingly harsh line on enforcing health and safety legislation, please don’t leave it to the Department of Labour to tell you what you should have done as part of their investigation into your prosecution.

•Independent Line Services Limited was convicted on one charge under Section 6 of the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992.
•Section 6 of the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 states: Every employer shall take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of employees while at work; and in particular shall take all practicable steps to—
◦(a) provide and maintain for employees a safe working environment; and
◦(b) provide and maintain for employees while they are at work facilities for their safety and health; and
◦(c) ensure that plant used by any employee at work is so arranged, designed, made, and maintained that it is safe for the employee to use; and
◦(d) ensure that while at work employees are not exposed to hazards arising out of the arrangement, disposal, manipulation, organisation, processing, storage, transport, working, or use of things—
■(i) in their place of work; or
■(ii) near their place of work and under the employer’s control; and
◦(e) develop procedures for dealing with emergencies that may arise while employees are at work.