Safety While Working At Heights
The risks of working from height are often misunderstood by many people, from employers to employees, contractors, sub-contractors, sole traders, and even the general public. One misconception is regarding the definition of working from height. Most people think of someone working on a skyscraper, or a very tall tower.
However, the reality is that the majority of injuries occur at less than three metres above the ground. Height risks also exist below the ground, not just above it. People can fall into a hole, trench or water with an additional risk of asphyxiation.
There are ten, crucial statistics that you need to know about working from heights. According to Safe Work Australia:
- Every year in Australia, an average of 29 people die from work-related falls
- Falling from a height was the cause of 11% of all work-related deaths in Australia
- Half of the fatal falls involved distances of three metres or less (31% from a height of two metres or less, and a further 19% involved falls from between two and three metres)
- 21 employees every day, lodge claims for a falls-related injury that required one or more weeks off work in Australia
- A typical claim due to a fall from height involved 6 weeks off work and compensation paid average over $14,000 per claim
- The industries with the highest numbers of serious falls-related claims are Construction (20%), Manufacturing (12%) and Transport & Storage (11%)
- Falls from ladders were the primary cause of work-related fatalities from heights (16%)
- Falls from trucks, semi-trailers and lorries were the second highest cause of deaths, accounting for 11% of fall-related fatalities
- Falls-related fatality rates increased with age, with workers aged 45 years and over making up 65% of those who died following a fall from height
- There has been no improvement in the number of fatalities or the fatality rate in the past eight years
After reviewing various Australian workplace injury and fatality records, the statistics above paint an alarming picture that falls from heights are still a very large cause of injuries and fatalities within Australian workplaces.
Additional research we have found indicates:
- In the majority of fatal falls from height the work could have been performed on the ground
- If personnel use height safety equipment appropriate for their work situation, they are at a much lower risk of injury
- If people who work at heights complete height safety training, they are less likely to be injured from a fall as they understand the regulatory and safety requirements to safely work at height
- If your organisation has supervisors who understand the legislative requirements of conducting work at height and the different height safety systems that can be used safely, it is less likely that workers would be put at risk of an injury-producing fall
- If adequate height safety procedures are in place and workers are instructed properly, they are less likely to place themselves in a situation where they could fall from height
- Contractors are at a far higher risk of incident than employees with a regular workplace. We assume this is because they are less familiar with the sites falls from height hazards
- The majority of workplaces are ill prepared to rescue a suspended worker after a fall from height and have insufficient training and equipment to perform a rescue
The Work Health and Safety Act 2011 places the primary responsibility for health and safety duty on a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU). However WHS duties are also required for officers of a PCBU, workers and other persons at a workplace.
This includes requirements to:
- Ensure any work involving the risk of a fall is carried out on the ground or on a solid construction
- Provide safe means to access and exit a workplace
- Minimise the risk of falls by providing a fall prevention device, work positioning system or a fall arrest system
What is a PCBU and who is covered by the Act?
A PCBU is a ‘Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking’. PCBU is a legal term under WHS laws for individuals, businesses or organisations that are conducting business.
Types of PCBUs can include:
- public and private companies
- partners in a partnership
- sole traders and self employed people
- government departments and authorities
- associations if they have one or more employees
- local government councils
- independent schools
All businesses – large and small – are required to comply with The Act. So this means that even if you are an owner-driver of your own transport or courier business; a builder with sub-contractors; a not-for-profit organisation that engages and pays administrative staff; or a self-employed person conducting your own business; you also need to meet your work safety obligations.
All workers are protected by the WHS Act, including:
- apprentices and trainees
- work experience students
- employers who perform work
The WHS Act also places an obligation of care on PCBUs to protect the general public, so that their health and safety is not placed at risk by work activities, such as heavy tools falling from heights, or potentially falling into a hole.
Invest in height safety training
If you want to substantially reduce the risk of a fall from height at your workplace, we recommend investing in relevant height safety training for your workers and supervisors with a Registered Training Organisation, and ensure that they have adequate height safety procedures and equipment in place.
By providing your staff and supervisors with height safety training, height safety procedures and appropriate protective equipment, you will significantly improve the confidence and competence of your staff in conducting work at height safely.
How often do I need to train myself and my staff?
Technically, a certificate of competence issued by an RTO, such as Fire & Safety Australia (RTO #22250), never expires, but it is the strong recommendation that re-certification of a safe work at heights training course should be undertaken every 2 years. As the research shows, even your older, more experienced workers are at high risk. So it is important to retrain and remind your staff regularly.
Fire & Safety Australia
This article was first published in the National Safety Magazine by the NSCA Foundation.
- Safe Work Australia. Work-related Injuries and Fatalities Involving a Fall from Height, Australia, October 2013
- SafeWork Australia – Australian Worker’s Compensation Statistics, 2015-16 https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/heights
- Working at Heights Association http://www.waha.org.au/injury-statistics/
- Worksafe QLD https://www.worksafe.qld.gov.au/laws-and-compliance/workplace-health-and-safety-laws/laws-and-legislation/work-health-and-safety-act-2011