Introduction to Working at Height
In the ever-evolving landscape of industrial and construction activities, working at height remains one of the most challenging and risky tasks. In Australia, where vast construction projects and high-rise maintenance are commonplace, ensuring safety at height is not just a regulatory requirement but a moral imperative. This guide, presented by Safetysure Health and Safety Consultants, aims to serve as a core resource, offering comprehensive insights into the best practices, legal frameworks, and practical steps to ensure maximum safety when working above the ground.
What is working at Height?
The definition of “working at height” varies slightly depending on the specific legal and regulatory context, but generally, it refers to any work where there is a risk of a fall from one level to another that could cause personal injury. This definition typically includes work in any place, including above, at or below ground level, where a person could be injured if they fell from that place. Key aspects of this definition include:
- Risk of a Fall The primary factor is the potential for a fall to occur. This risk is present not only when working above ground level but also in situations where there is a possibility of falling into an opening in a floor or a hole in the ground.
- Potential for Injury The definition focuses on the risk of injury from a fall. It’s not just about the height from which a person might fall, but also about the severity of potential injury that could result from such a fall.
- Various Environments Working at height can occur in a wide range of environments, not just on construction sites or on tall structures. It includes any work on ladders, roofs, scaffolds, platforms, near open edges, or near fragile surfaces.
- Includes Work above, at or Below Ground Level The definition also covers situations where an individual could fall from an edge, through a fragile surface, or into an opening in the floor or ground.
There are also a range of other risks such as the falling of objects from one level to another that may result from the work being undertaken. These are known as dropped objects and present a range of specific risks to be managed.
Understanding the Risks
The risk of falling from heights is a serious concern in workplaces across Australia. It’s not just the height that’s dangerous; factors like unstable working platforms, unpredictable weather conditions, untrained staff and inadequate safety control measures can exponentially increase the risk. The statistics are sobering: according to Safe Work Australia, falls from height are among the leading causes of workplace fatalities and serious injuries. Understanding what these risks are is the first step towards mitigating them.
Safe Work Australia found that from (2015-19) the data shows there were 122 fatalities from falls from heights—13 per cent of all fatalities
Legal Framework and Compliance
In Australia, the various Work Health and Safety (WHS) Acts, along with their regulations and codes of practice, set the benchmark for workplace safety, including work at height. These laws impose duties on employers and workers alike, ensuring everyone’s health and safety through proper planning, training, and use of appropriate safety equipment. Compliance with these laws is not just a legal obligation but a fundamental aspect of workplace safety culture.
Work at height on a construction project or on most mining sites is defined as High Risk Work. There are 18 activities that are classed as high risk construction work due to the significant potential for serious harm that is often associated with those activities.
PCBUs including self-employed persons, must prepare a safe work method statement (SWMS) before commencing high risk construction work (HRCW). You can download a free SWMS template here.
Key Legislation and Standards
Work Health and Safety Acts/Regulations
These acts across Australian regulatory jurisdictions provide the legal framework for ensuring health and safety in Australian workplaces, including requirements for working at height.
Australian standards offer detailed guidance on equipment and safety measures for fall prevention and protection.
The creation of the relevant Standards is overseen by Standards Australia through a committee process, with a process to periodically review the documents for changing industry developments.
There are a number of International Standards (ISO Standards) that have also been recently adopted by Australian Standards. The ISO is an International Standards body that has a number of representatives from national Standards organisations, and it is currently the world’s largest developer of voluntary international standards.
Standards are only available for purchase from Standards Australia. See www.standards.org.au for more information.
The key Standards that apply include:
Please note that standards are reviewed regularly and may change.
Risk Assessment: The Foundation of Safe Working at Height
A detailed risk assessment is vital before any height-related work begins. This process involves:
– Identifying potential hazards.
– Assessing the likelihood of incidents.
– Implementing control measures based on the hierarchy of controls, from elimination to substitution, engineering controls, administrative actions, and PPE.
Training and Competency
Training and competency is a critical component of safety at height. It’s essential that all personnel involved are not only trained in the technical aspects of their work but also in the use of the specific safety equipment and emergency procedures.
The Australian Competency requirements include the unit of competency RIIWHS204E – Work safely at heights. Available at https://training.gov.au/Training/Details/RIIWHS204E
Regular refresher courses are equally important to keep up with the latest safety techniques and regulations.
Areas of Focus for Training
Elements describe the essential outcomes.
Performance criteria describe the performance needed to demonstrate achievement of the element.
1. Identify work requirements
1.1 Obtain, interpret and confirm work requirements
1.2 Access, interpret and apply documentation required to work safely at heights
1.3 Identify and address potential risks, hazards and environmental issues, and implement control measures according to workplace procedures
1.4 Inspect worksite to determine layout and physical condition, condition of structures and equipment requirements
1.5 Adhere to legislative requirements
1.6 Select appropriate plant, tools and equipment for the job, inspect them for serviceability and rectify or report any faults prior to commencement of work activities
1.7 Select and wear personal protective equipment appropriate for work activities
1.8 Obtain and interpret emergency procedures, and be prepared for emergency situations
2. Identify work procedures and instructions
2.1 Consult with relevant personnel to select materials, tools and equipment required for the work activities
2.2 Inspect and install fall protection and perimeter protection equipment
2.3 Identify methods of moving tools and equipment to the work area according to workplace procedures
2.4 Ensure the safety system has been installed according to workplace procedures
2.5 Select and install appropriate signs and barricades according to workplace procedures
3. Access and install equipment
3.1 Consult with relevant personnel to ensure anchor fall protection and associated equipment is fitted and adjusted according to workplace procedures
3.2 Ensure all required equipment is installed according to workplace procedures
3.3 Access work area for people, tools and equipment according to workplace procedures
3.4 Locate tools and materials to eliminate or minimise the risk of items being knocked down
4. Perform work at heights
4.1 Check access from ground to work area and ensure it is safe according to workplace procedures
4.2 Keep fall equipment in place and adjusted appropriately for movement during work
4.3 Undertake manual handling of materials and equipment according to workplace procedures
4.4 Locate materials and equipment ensuring that they are safely secured and distributed according to workplace procedures
4.5 Check safety system periodically for compliance
4.6 Monitor risk control measures to ensure that they are effective and appropriate according to workplace procedures
4.7 Reassess risk control measures, as required, in accordance with workplace procedures and undertake alterations
5. Clean up work area
5.1 Consult with relevant personnel to ensure safety system is dismantled and removed according to workplace procedures
5.2 Clear work area and dispose of materials
5.3 Clean and maintain the plant and equipment, inspect for ensure serviceability and rectify or report any faults or issues to relevant personnel
5.4 Process written maintenance records according to workplace procedures
Equipment: Selection, Use, and Maintenance
Choosing the right equipment is crucial for ensuring safety at height. This includes ladders, scaffolding, harnesses, and fall arrest or restraint systems, which must be selected based on the specific requirements of the task and environment. Regular maintenance and inspections are mandatory to ensure that this equipment remains safe and functional.
– Suitability for the specific task and environment.
– Compliance with Australian Standards.
– Regular inspection and maintenance schedules.
Emergency Preparedness and Response
An effective emergency plan is a non-negotiable aspect of working at height. This plan should encompass:
– Procedures for immediate response in case of a fall.
– First aid and medical intervention strategies.
– Regular drills to ensure preparedness.
Creating and Sustaining a Culture of Safety
Beyond the regulations and equipment, a robust culture of safety is the backbone of preventing work related accidents at height. This culture is built on:
– Open communication about safety concerns.
– Regular safety meetings and training sessions.
– A collective commitment to safety from all levels of the organization.
This guide provides a holistic view of the myriad aspects of working at height in Australia. From understanding the risks and legal compliance to hands-on advice on equipment and training, the guide serves as a comprehensive resource for ensuring safety in elevated work environments.
Work at Height Resources in Australia
The national policy body responsible for developing work health and safety strategies and regulations in Australia. Offers a wide range of resources and guidance materials for working at height.
2. Australian Standards for Working at Height
Standards such as AS/NZS 1891 (Industrial Fall-arrest Systems and Devices) and AS/NZS 4576 (Guidelines for Scaffolding).
Available for purchase and download from the [Standards Australia] https://www.standards.org.au) website.
3. State-Based Work Health and Safety Authorities
– Each state and territory in Australia has its own WHS regulatory body, such as WorkSafe Victoria, SafeWork NSW, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland, etc.
– These bodies provide local regulations, resources, and training specific to their jurisdiction.
4. Codes of Practice
Codes of Practice provide practical guidance on how to meet the standards set out in the Work Health and Safety Act and Regulations. They are admissible in court proceedings as evidence of whether or not a duty under the WHS Act has been met.
1. Code of Practice: Managing the Risk of Falls at Workplaces
– Description: This model code provides detailed guidance on how to prevent falls in the workplace, including when working at height.
– [Direct Link to Code](https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/doc/model-code-practice-managing-risk-falls-workplaces)
2. Code of Practice: Construction Work
– Description: This model code offers specific guidelines for construction work, which often involves working at height.
– [Direct Link to Code](https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/doc/model-code-practice-construction-work)
3. Code of Practice: How to Manage Work Health and Safety Risks
– Description: Provides a process for managing WHS risks, applicable to a variety of work environments, including those involving work at height.
– [Direct Link to Code](https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/doc/model-code-practice-how-manage-work-health-and-safety-risks)
4. Code of Practice: Confined Spaces
– Description: Relevant for work at height scenarios that may also involve working in confined spaces.
– [Direct Link to Code](https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/doc/model-code-practice-confined-spaces)
– Industry Associations and Safety Groups Organisations like the Work At Height Industry Association , Master Builders Association (MBA), Australian Institute for Health & Safety and other industry-specific groups often provide additional resources, training, and updates relevant to working at height.
– Training Providers Various registered training organisations (RTOs) offer specialised courses in working safely at height, aligned with Australian standards and regulations.