3 ways to prevent falls at the workplace

To the average person, falling down doesn’t sound like too big of a deal. However, when a carpenter is working several metres above the ground, such an incident becomes all the more serious.

According to a recent infographic from Safe Work Australia (SWA), between 2008-09 and 2012-13, slips, trips and falls caused 17,660 serious injuries. That’s 27.9 per cent of the total number of recorded injuries throughout that five-year period.

These figures emphasise the need for workplace safety programs. When it comes to preventing falls, what approaches should construction companies and other businesses take?

1. 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’, which refers to a job that will neither put a worker’s safety at risk nor create operational costs.

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

2. Protect openings

Any stairwells, voids, or atriums must be guarded as per Australian law. SWA noted that any opening that could possibly create a fall needs to be covered with either a resilient sheet or an industrial safety net.

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Railings can be a big help when working at heights.

In addition, employers must provide workers with guardrails as per Section 4.1 of the Preventing Falls in Housing Construction Code of Practice. This means contractors must use guardrails at the perimeters of structures, skylights or unstable roof materials.

3. Install fall arrest systems

Also known as catch platforms, fall arrest systems are designed to stop workers from falling if they should lose their balance. SWA maintained that any catch platforms should be well-designed, capable of withstanding a high amount of impact.

There are a couple of other stipulations associated with fall arrest systems. For example, the deck of the platform must extend at least two metres from the unprotected edges of the work area. Also, the arrestor must be placed beneath the work area, ensuring workers will be protected if they should fall through stable platforms.

In addition to taking the following precautions, companies shouldn’t neglect to train their employees in how to work at tall heights. This will ensure their workers are exercising good judgement when conducting tasks above the ground.