More construction workers are injured in the Illawarra than any other industry, with young and inexperienced people most at risk.
Construction has been the leading industry for workplace accidents in the Illawarra for the past six years, and it accounts for 59 (25 per cent) of the 233 reported incidents so far this year (to July 27).
This is down from a six-year peak of 72 incidents during the same period in 2021.
In NSW, almost half (44 per cent) of the falls from heights workers' compensation claims occurred in the construction sector.
In this sector, falls from heights injuries account for more than half (52 per cent) of all injuries.
"Falls from heights are the leading cause of traumatic fatalities on NSW construction sites, with falls from as little as two metres causing fatal or catastrophic injuries," a SafeWork NSW spokesman said.
Other leading industries for workplace injuries in the Illawarra are: manufacturing; healthcare and social assistance; education and training; public administration and safety; and electricity, gas, water and waste services.
Since May 1, SafeWork NSW has been targeting risky construction sites across the state, and issued 951 compliance notices, including 547 for improvement works, 270 stop-work orders and 120 fines.
Employees at Illawarra solar panel installation company, Energy Experts, work at heights every day.
The company's operation director Wes Green said safety rules are adequate to keep workers safe "if everyone followed them".
"There's very stringent safety rules and regulations that employers and employees have to abide by and work towards," he said.
Mr Green said complacency is a massive issue when it comes to any workplace.
"The more you work with these high risks, the lower you perceive them as time goes on," he said.
"When you're doing the same repetitive task over and over, it is easy to become complacent."
An industry push has seen solar installers urged to use height safety rails along the edge of a roof, but there's also risks with installing the rail (which acts as a fence to prevent workers from falling if they slip).
Impact of workplace injuries
Shine Lawyers senior associate Natalee Davis has seen first-hand the psychological, emotional and financial trauma some workers have after an injury.
"If they are fortunate enough to be in a position where they can recover to some level that they can participate in the open labor market, it is unlikely that the psychological effects will allow them to return back to the work that they're reasonably trained in," she said
"Their work is often the way that they identify themselves. If they're unable to return back to that same style of employment that takes away their independence."
Workers covered, regardless of fault
In NSW workers compensation is a no-fault scheme, regardless of how the accident occurred or even if the worker caused the injury themselves.
"What does matter is whether or not their work was a substantial contributing factor," Ms Davis said. "If a worker does die at work or sustains a very serious injury, their entitlement to workers compensation is not dependent upon fault."
Businesses risk on-the-spot fines up to $3600 and $720 for individuals for putting workers' lives at risk, or prosecution which can result in court ordered penalties in the order of tens of thousands of dollars.
If a person dies as a result of an injury at their workplace, the minimum lump sum payment the workers compensation insurer must pay that person's dependents is $891,100.
Advice from SafeWork
Falls are entirely preventable through proper planning and the use of the right safety equipment, the SafeWork NSW spokesman said.
"The best way to keep safe is to eliminate the need to work at heights, or to work from a solid structure such as scaffolding," he said.
"Where this is not practicable, businesses should use fall prevention equipment such as roof rails, barriers, crawl boards and covers. Working in harnesses must only be used when all other controls are not practicable."
A SafeWork Australia spokeswoman said there is a huge economic impact when workers are injured or made unwell by work.
"Australia's economy would be $28.6 billion larger, 185,500 additional full-time equivalent jobs would be created, and workers across all occupations and skill levels would benefit from an average wage rise of 1.3 per cent," she said.