Safety focus: How we safely work at heights

Safety focus: How we safely work at heights




First, a few sobering statistics

Around 12% of worker fatalities between 2006 and 2016 were a result of falls from a height.1

Last year in Australia, 28 workers died from this type of workplace accident. In the last five years, 155 fatalities were caused by falls from a roof.

This graph shows that there’s roughly a fatality every fortnight.

A few other facts about working at heights:

  • Half of the fatal falls involved distances of 3 metres or less; 31% from 2 metres and 19% involve falls between 2 and 3 metres.
  • Everyday, 21 employees lodge claims for a falls-related injury that requires one or more weeks off work.
  • A typical claim involves 6 weeks off work. The compensation paid averages around $14,000 per claim.

With the construction industry accounting for a significant proportion of overall accidents at work, Advanced Buildings are determined to protect our workers and subcontractors from mishaps at work.

To make sure we avoid workplace accidents, we’re guided by key laws and regulations including Codes of Practice under section 274 of the Work Health and Safety Act (the WHS Act) and the and the Work Health and Safety Regulations.

Worker fatalities: proportion by industry of employer, 2017 and five-year average (2013 to 2017)2

But first, a few important definitions:

Fall, means anytime where there‘s a risk of falling from one level to another that may lead to an injury.

Fall Arrest System, means equipment, material or a combination of equipment and material, that’s designed to arrest the fall of a person.

Restraint, means equipment, material or a combination of equipment and material, that’s set up in such a way that the person either can’t fall or only fall 600mm.

Our approach to working at heights

When managing work where there are height hazards, there are a few basic principles, minimum requirements and processes that we follow. These WHS procedures apply to all Advanced Buildings employees and sub-contractors on Advanced Buildings jobs.

Identification and Assessment

An important first step is to identify a potential risk. A Risk Assessment is the quickest and easiest way of identifying any risks.  Some risks can be caused by, but not limited to, adverse weather, overhead power lines, falling, not knowing the task at hand, slips and trips.

A Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) must be completed for High Risk jobs before work begins. If we identify a risk, we put in place the necessary control methods in line with the hierarchy of control.

Hierarchy of Control for the prevention of falls

The Hierarchy of Control is a simple, but effective guideline to what safety equipment should be used in particular situations.

According to Nicole Gallagher, Advanced Building’s National Safety Adviser,  “Safety is all about competency, training, good supervison and having the right equipment and procedures.”

“It’s essential that all workers on Advanced Buildings worksites know what to do to prevent an accident and how to use the safety equipment properly.”

Common safety equipment and procedures include:

Fall Arrest Equipment & Restraints

Fall arrest equipment, such as harnesses, lanyards and anchor points, are used onsite to keep workers safe when working at heights. The equipment we use complies with the relevant Australian Standard. Qualified personnel regularly inspect this equipment to ensure that they’re in line with that standard.

Harnesses are used for both restraint and to arrest a fall. If there’s a risk of falling from a height that’s less than five metres, workers must always use a harness for restraint. When workers are at heights of more than five metres, a harness is used to arrest a fall.

A Height-Roof Access Permit is required where workers are using a harness to perform their work.

To make sure workers are safe, our team uses anchor points to secure the fall arrest equipment being used. These anchor points are carefully and regularly checked to confirm that they provide enough strength to keep the worker secure.

The following requirements apply:

An Emergency Procedure is always in place

For all work that’s done at height in a harness, the Height-Roof Access Permit includes a detailed emergency procedure. It’s important that the Advanced Buildings team be prepared and not reliant on the support of Emergency Services should an accident occur.  A height rescue plan would be provided by those doing the works.

Securing no-go Zones

Where we see the possibility that building materials or tools could fall and injure workers on the ground, we create a ‘No-Go Zone’. Using some form of clearly marked barricade, this prevents people from entering the hazardous area.

Not only do we use No-Go Zone, we also ensure those who may be working beneath or close by understand the works that are being undertaken and what PPE is required.  This information would be given to workers, before they start work in a daily pre-start toolbox.

Using drones to avoid inspection at heights

Where buildings, especially roofs, have been damaged, we try to use drones. This makes inspection and assessment of damage easier. It’s safer for our workforce and has the added advantage of improving the accuracy of our assessments. To read more about how we use drones, take a look at this article.

Here are a few tips and traps that we discuss in our team training sessions:

Safety Tips when working at heights

  • Increased roof pitch increases the risk.
  • If people are two metres or closer to the edge, protection is required.
  • It’s far safer to use harnesses in restraint.
  • Avoid working too close to powerlines.
  • Assess if there’s the potential for adverse weather to affect the work.

Traps to avoid when working at heights

  • Thinking that wearing a harness makes it safe. It’s still hazardous.
  • Falling in a poorly fitted harness may result in very painful injuries
  • Simply forgetting to anchor a harness.
  • Using anchor points that are insufficient.
  • Relying on harnesses when the potential fall is less than 6.5 metres is risky.

Safe use of ladders is essential

It’s crucial that ladders are used appropriately onsite. Ladders are designed to enable workers to access work areas only. They’re not suitable to be worked on.

For extra safety, all workers are expected to carry out their job from well-secured trestles and platform ladders.

In the event that work on a step-ladder can’t be avoided, it must not be used while the person stands on either of the top two steps.

Ladders should be locked into position, both top and bottom, and angled at a ratio of 1:4. (Position the base of the ladder 1 metre away from the structure for every 4 metres of height.)

For more information on using ladders, take a look at this video.

 

What are the basic obligations for Advanced Buildings and its employees?

  1. There must be a Safe System of Work in place.
  2. The Hierarchy of Control must be used to determine the safest method.
  3. A workable rescue plan must be included on the Safe System of Work.
  4. The Safe System of Work must be documented in the form of a SWMS.
  5. As principle contractor, we must ensure that all workers are supervised.
  6. All persons working at height must be trained or closely supervised.
  7. All training must be documented.

REFERENCES

  1. Safe Work Australia Code: Falls at workplaces. Fatality Statistics.
  2. Safe Work Australia: Work Related Traumatic Injury Fatalities Report 2017

ALSO:

The Roofing Tile Association of Australia has produced this handy educational video about working at heights.

Model Code of Practice: Managing the risk of falls at workplaces

  • Working From Heights

    Working From Heights

  • Working From Heights

    Working From Heights

  • Working From Heights

    Working From Heights

  • Working From Heights

    Working From Heights

  • Working From Heights

    Working From Heights

  • Working From Heights

    Working From Heights

  • Working From Heights

    Working From Heights

  • Working From Heights

    Working From Heights

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Find out more about this project


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