10 Steps to Height Safety in the Workplace

Working at heights is a high-risk activity and a leading cause of death and serious injury in Australia. We’re providing 10 real and practical steps to significantly reduce risk, keep your workplace compliant, and create a much safer environment for your employees.

1. Understand your legal obligations

2. Assess the risks

3. Figure out what’s reasonably practicable

4. Improve or install height safety systems

5. Ensure workers are properly trained for working at height

6. Control Access

7. Use the right height safety PPE gear and equipment

8. Communicate height safety standards

9. Have comprehensive accident and rescue plans

10. Schedule maintenance and recertification

1. Understand your legal obligations 

A Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) has a legal obligation to ensure reasonable health and safety while working at heights under the Work Health & Safety Act 2011

According to Safe Work Australia, fall hazards are observed anywhere where a job is being done at height. This can be working on a pre-existing roof, building a new building, stacking shelves, unloading stock, working near skylights, working on ladders and more.

This means that as the PCBU, you have a duty to undertake an adequate risk assessment and act on those risks with risk elimination, safety systems, and procedures in order to meet compliance criteria. It is also the legal duty of the PCBU to ensure safety systems themselves are compliant and above all safe.

The unintended consequences of negligence can be extreme, both personally and professionally. Employers can face potential jail time and companies can be left with multi-million dollar fines for failing to meet their obligations to ensure the health and safety of workers at heights.

2. Assess the risks 

A proper and thorough risk assessment is the most crucial step on the road to height safety. Failure to properly identify risks will lead to flawed height safety practices and inadequate safety systems.

A height safety assessment and audit should be undertaken by a qualified and experienced technician. A quality auditor will provide detailed reports that rate the level of risk and provide a clear set of priorities to address. 

An audit will advise whether any existing height safety equipment is compliant with Australian Standards and what safety systems and/or practices will be necessary to achieve compliance and worker safety.

On site height safety risk assesment with a client

3. Figure out what’s reasonably practicable 

Under the Workplace Health and Safety Act, those in charge of a business or undertaking have an obligation to determine which tasks are reasonably practicable by weighing up all relevant factors including:

  • The likelihood of the hazard or the risk concerned occurring 
  • The degree of harm that might result from the hazard or the risk
  • What the person concerned knows, or ought reasonably to know, about the hazard or risk, and ways of eliminating or minimising the risk
  • The availability and suitability of ways to eliminate or minimise the risk, and
  • After assessing the extent of the risk and the available ways of eliminating or minimising the risk, the cost associated with available ways of eliminating or minimising the risk, including whether the cost is grossly disproportionate to the risk

For example, a reasonably practicable task may involve installing shingles on a roof. However, in order to minimise the risk of falling, a contractor must provide harnesses and other height safety equipment to the personnel conducting the work to ensure their safety. 

4. Improve or install height safety systems 

Quality safety systems form the backbone of height safety, keeping workers safe and the workplace compliant. Height safety systems come in many forms and are adapted to suit the specific needs of the site and/or task being undertaken.

Common height safety systems include:

Sketch of retail building with AnchorSafe solutions

Choosing the right system for the job and proper installation are key to ensuring compliance with safety standards and that workers are kept safe. Seek a qualified and experienced technician to design, install and certify your height safety systems to ensure all standards and obligations are met.

5. Ensure workers are properly trained for working at height 

 Adequate height safety training for employees or contractors working at height is an essential element in compliance and safety. Training provides the skills and knowledge on how to work safely at heights and educates on the hierarchy of hazard control, the forces generated in falls, specific hazards such as pendulum effect, swing back and suspension trauma. 

Training must also be provided to familiarise workers with the specific height safety systems installed on your worksite and ensure competence in their use. It is crucial that any person intending to use a safety system has proof of receiving appropriate training and information on how to use the height safety system safely. 

 6. Control Access

Having a strict permittance process in place provides control over who can access areas at height. This means the business can ensure anybody accessing areas at height has received proper training and has the right PPE and safety gear. It also minimises unnecessary exposure to risk to other employees, contractors, and visitors to the workplace. 

Common access control measures include physical barriers such as fencing and lockable gates at access points, guardrails and walkways, signage, and company policy.

A roof access point warning notice with all required safety information available for those working on the rooftop

7. Use the right height safety PPE gear and equipment 

Having the right Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for the job is key to ensuring you meet stringent Australian height safety requirements. Height safety equipment must not only minimise risk to health and safety but also be suitable for the nature of the work and hazards associated with the project.

Common height safety equipment includes:

  • Harnesses
  • Lanyards and rope lines
  • Hooks and karabiners
  • Temporary anchor points
  • Temporary static lines
  • Rescue equipment
  • Material hoists and winches

Australian height safety standards require that all personal use equipment (harness, lanyard, connectors and fall arrest devices) and common use equipment (ropes, slings, fall arrest devices and mobile attachment devices) are inspected by a competent operator before and after each use.

8. Communicate height safety standards

Instilling a culture of safety should always be a priority for any business but is particularly important where work is being undertaken at height. There are many methods a company can use to communicate safety standards throughout the workplace including:

  • Set clear expectations of exactly what is required
  • Install safety signage in prominent or highly frequented areas and points of access
  • Hold regular Toolbox Talks to review and discuss safety standards.
  • Implement strong company policies on safety at height
  • Provide regular training, retraining, and certification
  • Implement routine safety checks from supervisors
  • Encourage employees to hold each other accountable
  • Share industry case studies and incident reports as examples of insufficient safety measures

Workplace height safety meeting

9. Have comprehensive accident and rescue plans in place

No height safety system can guarantee 100% safety for its users. There are many variables and human error often comes into play. 

For example, a fall arrest system may save the user’s life but leave them suspended and potentially injured. Accidents with tools, machinery, slips and falls may incapacitate a worker or a medical emergency such as a heart attack could occur.

Having comprehensive accident and rescue plans in place for workers at height and ensuring workers are familiar with them will ensure you have the necessary equipment and processes should the need arise. 

Rescue plans and equipment are something that we all hope to never need to use, but if the time comes, being properly prepared will be hugely important.

10. Schedule maintenance and recertification

Height safety systems aren’t in the ‘set and forget’ category. They must be correctly maintained and a lot of equipment requires annual recertification. To stay on top of compliance and worker safety many businesses will schedule maintenance and recertification from a trusted height safety services provider.

If you outsource this job, make sure you hire a credible safety company that stays fully up-to-date with changes to standards, can make ongoing recommendations to ensure you stay compliant, and has online systems that keep you fully informed about compliance status and risks that need addressing. 

If you keep this responsibility in-house, ensure you factor in the full process and create a detailed plan on how you will handle this important task. Be sure to factor in maintenance and recertification for all safety equipment and systems, maintain and provide access to manuals, and conduct thorough roof inductions and ongoing training.

Anchor Safe team carry out maintenance and inspection on a rooftop safety system

Comprehensive Height Safety Services

Anchor Safe offers comprehensive height safety services to building owners and managers, to ensure rooftops and other working at height situations are compliant with all relevant codes, standards, and regulations.

We take care of everything, starting with the design of a customised height safety solution using quality products. Our certified and highly trained team will install your systems to ensure they are fit for purpose and meet and exceed all relevant certification standards.

With ongoing compliance management and maintenance services, you can rest assured that your building or worksite is completely compliant and your workers at height are safe.

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