Three people were injured after scaffolding collapsed in the middle of Sydney's CBD in May. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the accident occurred when temporary fencing fell five metres to the street below. This incident illustrates the importance of careful delineation between construction activities and pedestrian access areas and the need for stringent pre-installation risk assessment by the supplier. It also highlights the important OHS obligations that exists for the erection of scaffolding in each state.

While it is unclear as to the cause of this incident, in NSW Clause 58 of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation 2001 requires that a scaffold and its supporting structure be inspected by a competent person if a fall of greater than four metres is possible.

According to Workcover NSW this inspection must take place:

  • before the scaffold is used for the first time
  • after an incident that might reasonably be expected to affect the stability or adequacy of the scaffold or its supporting structure - (for example after a severe storm)
  • before the scaffold is used following repairs
  • at intervals not exceeding 30 days

National standards set out industry requirements for erecting and dismantling scaffolding - AS/NZS 1576.1:1995 - Scaffolding and AS/NZS 4576 - Guidelines for scaffolding. In NSW there is also WorkCover's industry safety standard - Erecting, altering and dismantling scaffolding, Part 1 - Prefabricated steel modular scaffolding.

The incident follows a number of similar serious scaffolding incidents occurring in 2009 in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Perth, prompting WorkCover NSW's issuance of its "Collapsing of Scaffolding" safety alert.

The alert sets out the OH&S requirements for scaffolding as well as listing risk controls that can be implemented to prevent collapses. It can be found at: http://www.workcover.nsw.gov.au/formspublications/publications/Documents/collapse_of_scaffolding_safey_alert_5877.pdf