Multiple workers seriously injured from falls through plaster ceilings

WorkSafe Victoria is reminding employers about managing the risk of falling more than two metres through plaster ceilings.



Several construction workers have fallen from roof spaces recently. In separate incidents, two workers fell through plaster ceilings while working in roof spaces. Another lost balance while standing on roof trusses. They all sustained serious and life-threatening injuries.

Falls through plaster ceilings can be prevented by having correct fall prevention controls in place.

Safety issues

Falls are a leading cause of fatalities and serious injuries on Victorian construction sites. They often occur because there are inadequate, or no fall prevention controls in place.

Hazards associated with working in roof spaces include, but are not limited to:

  • Using trusses for foot placement. Trusses may be hidden from view and may cause the worker to step on plaster.
  • Lack of lighting that obstructs clear visibility.
  • Brittle or damaged ceiling structure and materials.

Poor planning and hazard identification not being carried out prior to undertaking work in roof spaces may result in workers making unnecessary trips through the spaces and may increase the risk of falls.

Identify hazards

Employers must, so far as is reasonably practicable, identify all tasks that an employee is required to undertake at a workplace that involves a fall hazard. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • the construction, demolition, inspection, testing, maintenance, repair, or cleaning of any plant or structure
  • working on fragile, slippery, or potentially unsafe surfaces
  • using equipment to gain access to an elevated level

A competent person should inspect roof areas to identify potential falls risks. Access and the range of movement within the roof space should also be assessed.

An assessment of the ceiling should help identify cracks, holes, mould, water damage and rotten timber. This may reveal the structure is unsafe to perform work until repairs have been completed. Materials such as nails and adhesive glues are used to affix ceiling plaster to battens or trusses. These materials are not designed to carry extra weight.

Where reasonably practicable, identify tasks that can be performed without the need for persons to enter the ceiling space.

Recommended ways to control risks

After risks have been identified, you must implement the highest possible measures from the hierarchy of controls.

A combination of risk control measures may be required in ensuring the health and safety of employees.

Ways to control risk may include:

  • Do not step on ceiling materials (i.e plaster board or gyp sheeting).
  • Lay crawl boards (of suitable size and material) across joists.
  • Improve lighting conditions, using battery-powered work lights.
  • Project manage the work to minimise the requirement to access the roof space.
  • Ensure there are 2-way communication with workers who may undertaking works within the ceiling space.

Legal duties

Employers have duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004. Employers must, so far as is reasonably practicable:

  • provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to the health of employees including independent contractors
  • provide and maintain plant or systems of work that are safe and without risks to health
  • provide employees with the necessary information, instruction, training or supervision to enable them to do their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health
  • ensure that people other than employees are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the employer's conduct
  • consult with employees and health and safety representatives when identifying or assessing hazards or risks and making decisions about risk control measures
  • ensure that other persons are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the conduct of the employer or self-employed person's undertaking

Where there is a risk of a person falling from a height of more than two metres, employers have specific duties under Part 3.3 (Prevention of falls) of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017, including:

  • establishing emergency procedures
  • preparing and following a safe work method statement
  • providing safe working conditions, including lighting

Further information