Workers asked to rethink crowbar choice after student impalement

Paul Eyers
By Paul Eyers
5 Min Read

Tradies are being asked to reconsider the shape of their crowbars needed on site after a construction student was impaled by the tool.

The student was undertaking a school-based construction training certificate when he fell and landed on the crowbar at a Queensland construction site last month.

The crowbar had a chisel tip on one end and a pointed tip on the other, also known as a pinch bar.

The teenager was transported to hospital with serious injuries, with workplace safety investigations ongoing into the matter.

WorkSafe: use a different crowbar

While investigations are continuing into the exact cause, WorkSafe Queensland has recommended measures to “prevent similar incidents”, including using safer types of crowbars when possible.

“Where crowbars are used as part of the digging process, preferably use crowbars that have a flat head at the top end,” the advice states.

The recommendations also included using earthmoving plants to excavate where possible, inserting edge protection around excavations and keeping workers sufficiently far apart when conducting manual excavation tasks.

They also reiterated the importance of PPE equipment and administrative controls, including supervision when required.

WorkSafe Queensland says business operators should use a hierarchy of controls to create a step-by-step approach to eliminating or reducing construction site risks.

“Effective risk management starts with a commitment to health and safety from those who manage the business. If an incident occurs, you’ll need to show the regulator that you’ve used an effective risk management process,” they said.

“The hierarchy of controls ranks types of control methods from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest…with the aim of eliminating the hazard, which is the most effective control.”

Young workers make up 18 per cent of Queensland’s workforce and are no strangers to workplace injuries, with an average of 4400 seriously injured across the state each year.

And with its large number of apprentices, trainees, work experience, vocational education and school-based students, it’s no surprise that the construction industry contributes highly to that number both in Queensland and nationwide.

Just last month, a 16-year-old Melbourne apprentice spoke out after being shot in the head with a nail gun, which impaled his brain.

Some of the most significant risk factors for young people working on construction sites include operating plant and machinery, using tools and knives, working around vehicles, electrocution, working at heights and even workplace violence.

Their unique risk profile means they are less likely to perceive safety issues, may not express concerns and could need more education on what can impact health and safety.

Communication is key

WorkSafe Queensland says employer communication is critical to mitigating risk factors among young employees on site.

“Communication by the person conducting a business or undertaking is important to ensure there is a positive understanding by young workers of the hazards, risks and controls with good monitoring and supervision then confirms the risks are being managed appropriately,” they state.

“Consider the tasks you give to new and young workers given their skills, abilities, and experience.”

“Before a young person begins work, identify the gaps in the worker’s knowledge and assess their ability to work safely. Do not accept a young worker’s assurance that he or she is experienced and competent.”

While the onus on health and safety remains on the employer, WorkSafe Queensland says active participation by young workers is vital to safeguard them from injury.

“This means taking induction and training seriously, using the risk management process for work tasks, and asking for help before starting a task they’re not familiar with or comfortable carrying out,”

“Young workers should have an understanding of workplace risks, particularly the tasks being undertaken and how these risks are controlled.”

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Paul Eyers has worked as a journalist for a range of media publishers including News Corp and Network Ten. He has also worked outside of Australia, including time spent with ABS-CBN in the Philippines. Stepping away from the media, Paul spent five years sharpening his tools in construction - building his skill set and expertise within the trade industry. His diverse experiences and unique journey have equipped him with an insider view of Australia’s construction game to dig deep into the big stories.