The reality is unsafe work or working conditions at heights can have devastating consequences. Falls from heights are the leading cause of fatalities and injuries in the construction industry within Australia. Preventing falls should be actively managed so that people working at height are kept safe.
It’s important to identify a task that involves a fall hazard. Before commencing, put in place the highest level of protection possible to prevent falls.
The duration of the job will impact how you select the level of protection. If the job is ongoing, the structures chosen need to remain stable throughout the job. You may need to reassess things like ladders and scaffolds throughout the job.
The hierarchy of controls for the prevention of falls outlines the various controls in order from the highest level of protection to the lowest level of protection. Select the safest, most appropriate control measure from the below hierarchy to prevent injuries or fatalities from falls from heights on your site.
If working at heights can be avoided it should be. Working from the ground is always the safest option and should be considered the primary option. Some examples of eliminating the fall risk include using long-handled tools, relocating the task to the ground, and using extension poles for tools.
If working from a height is necessary, you need to manage the risk of a fall. Fall prevention measures could be something like an elevated work platform, scaffolding, or guard railing.
Assess if the use of a work positioning system such as a travel restraint system can be used. A travel restraint system enables a person to work in a way that prevents the person from falling e.g. fixed-length lanyards and static line systems
Assess if use of a fall arrest system such as an industrial safety net, a catch platform, or a safety harness fall arrest system can be used. A fall arrest system is different from a travel restraint system because the system does not prevent the fall, rather the system arrests the fall. This means that if they fell they would not come in contact with the ground but instead have a controlled arrested fall e.g. shock absorber on lanyard or anchor points etc.
It may be appropriate to use a ladder. Ladders do not provide fall protection and as such should only be looked at as a last option when selecting the level of protection. Ladders should only be used for short duration works such as changing a light bulb or paint touch-ups.
Below is a great image from WorkSafe Victoria which has summarised the hierarchy of control measures for the prevention of falls. Click on the image below to view.
Important: Where high-risk construction work includes a risk of a person falling more than 2 metres, a safe work method statement (SWMS) must be developed prior to work commencing.
Working at height can often be very high risk and there are professionals who make it their job to complete this work safely. It is often safer and more cost-effective to use height specialists even for shorter jobs.
Ensure workers receive adequate information, instruction and training. Conduct toolbox talks and reiterate the importance of procedures and completing a SWMS (when required). Empower your workers to take care of one another on-site with reinforced messaging.
It’s important you and your team are actively involved in ensuring any heights related work is carried out in the safest way possible. Empower your team to speak up, highlight unsafe working situations or practices, and swiftly act to handle them.
There are various WorkSafe / SafeWork websites, resources, and support tools on managing the risk of falls. Some examples include:
If you’ve got a question about working at height or any other health and safety matter, the HazardCo Advisory Team is here to help. Give them a call on 1800 954 702.