Working at height is inherently dangerous with falls and other accidents posing a serious threat to workers’ safety and exposing all to potential litigation. As such, it is essential that employers and employees alike take steps to identify potential hazards and implement appropriate safety measures to protect people working at height. In this article, we will explore six crucial best practice safety tips for working at height. By following these tips, you can help to ensure the safety of your workers (and yourself) and minimise the risk of accidents and injuries at height.
Identify Hazards and Assess the Risks
Conducting a height safety risk assessment
Conducting a height safety risk assessment in accordance with the hierarchy of control for working at height is an essential step in identifying potential hazards and implementing appropriate controls. The assessment should consider all areas where workers will be at height, including roofs, scaffolding, ladders, and other elevated platforms. It should also take into account the type of work being performed and the tools or equipment that will be used.
During the assessment, potential hazards should be identified and evaluated for their severity, likelihood of occurrence, and potential consequences. From there, appropriate control measures can be identified and implemented. By conducting a thorough risk assessment and implementing appropriate controls, you can help to ensure the safety of workers at height and minimise the risk of falls and other accidents.
Common hazards for workers at height
- Falls from height due to inadequate fall protection systems, access and egress points and PPE safety gear
- Structural collapse or instability of elevated surfaces or platforms, such as scaffolding or weak/brittle roofs
- Electrocution from working near or coming into contact with live electrical equipment
- Inclement weather conditions, such as strong winds or slippery surfaces, that can cause slips, trips, and falls
- Falling objects, tools, or materials that can strike workers below
- Exposure to hazardous substances or fumes that can cause respiratory issues or other health problems
- Inadequate lighting or visibility, which can impede workers’ ability to see and navigate elevated work areas safely
- Physical and mental fatigue, which can lead to reduced awareness, reaction time, and decision-making abilities, increasing the risk of accidents.
Choose the Right Fall Protection System
Where working at height can not be reasonably avoided, you must manage the risk of a fall which is typically done through a fall protection system. There are 3 main categories of fall protection systems: Fall Prevention Systems, Fall Restraint Systems and Fall Arrest Systems. Choosing the right system for your application will depend on a number of factors and expert advice should be sought to ensure compliance with safety standards and to keep workers are kept safe.
Fall prevention systems
A fall prevention system is considered the most effective way to protect against falls. It provides a high level of safety and does not require workers to use specific personal protective equipment or receive specialised training. This type of system is passive and can take the form of various structures such as roof guardrails, roof walkways, skylight protection, work platforms, and scaffolding.
Fall restraint systems
When a Fall Prevention System is not practical due to worksite constraints, a Fall Restraint System can be the next best option for workers at height. Fall Restraint Systems, also known as work-positioning systems, utilise a full-body harness and lanyard to prevent workers from physically reaching a fall hazard.
However, the implementation of specialized personal protective equipment (PPE) and working procedures associated with fall restraint systems can increase the potential risk involved in working at height.
To ensure safety, it is important to inspect all PPE to ensure it meets Australian standards and is fit for purpose, ensure that workers are sufficiently trained and briefed on the use of the system, and ensure that the anchor points, static lines, or rigid rail systems used to restrain the user meet Australian standards and maintain annual certification by a trained professional.
Fall arrest systems
When it’s not reasonably practicable to use a Fall Prevention or Fall Restraint system, a Fall Arrest System may be necessary. This type of system doesn’t prevent a fall, but it can reduce the impact and potential for serious injury or fatality by stopping the user mid-fall. Some examples of Fall Arrest systems include industrial safety nets, catch platforms, or individual harnesses and lanyard systems attached to anchors.
However, it’s important to note that Fall Arrest systems have the highest potential risk of the 3 fall protection systems. There’s always the potential for serious injury, even when the system works perfectly. The correct use of the system by the worker is crucial, in particular understanding the fall distance, which leaves fall arrest systems particularly vulnerable to user error. These systems are also highly reliant on the arrest system working as intended in the event that it needs to arrest the forces of a fall. For this reason, it is crucial that fall arrest systems meet Australian standards and maintain annual certification by a trained professional.
Use the Right Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Selecting the appropriate PPE gear and ensuring it’s up to the task is a critical component in staying safe while working at height. If your fall protection system relies on PPE to work effectively, choosing the right gear and maintaining it properly can be the determining factor of whether a serious injury or fatality occurs on the job site.
Choosing the right PPE
The best way to ensure you’re using the right PPE for a Fall Restraint or Fall Arrest system is to seek the advice of a height safety professional. For example, at Anchor Safe our system designers will always recommend specific PPE whenever it is required for our height safety systems and ensure our clients are aware of the exact maintenance and inspection requirements.
Quality, comfort and compliance with Australian standards and State regulations are all must-haves when it comes to gear that can potentially save your life. It’s also important to consider the type of work being undertaken to select gear that is properly suited for the job. If there is any doubt, contact a height safety professional and have them advise you on exactly what height-safety PPE you should be using.
Inspection and maintenance of PPE
Even the best quality PPE gear is affected by wear and tear so learning how to inspect harnesses and lanyards for damage is crucial for anyone working at heights. Like all safety gear, PPE such as harnesses, lanyards, connectors, temporary static lines, ropes, slings, fall arrest devices and mobile attachment devices will all have a working life and eventually need to be replaced.
Australian height safety standards require that all personal use equipment and common use equipment are inspected by a competent operator before and after each use. Where the operator is not competent (e.g. during operator training), these inspections should be carried out by a qualified height safety expert.
Ensure Safe Access and Egress
Workers moving to and from work positions at height is a major source of falls and injuries in Australian workplaces. Mitigating these risks through procedure, training and ultimately the installation of permanent access systems can go a long way to keeping workers safe.
Portable ladders are a common source of workplace injury, typically because the ladder was used incorrectly or inappropriately. When using a portable ladder it is crucial to properly assess the work site and determine;
- Is there a safer alternative to the use of a ladder? For example, can work be performed from ground level? Can scaffolding or an elevated work platform be used instead?
- Is a ladder safe to use in this location? A ladder must be set up on a firm, level surface at a ratio of 4:1. Where ever possible a ladder should be secured at both the top and bottom.
- Which ladder is suitable for the job? Ensure you choose a ladder designed to meet the specific nature of the task
- Is the ladder fit for purpose? Check the ladder for damage and ensure it is in good working order before each use.
Permanent access systems
For industrial and commercial operations that require regular access to rooftops or other working at-height situations, a permanently installed access system can provide a significantly safer access and egress route for workers.
Permanent ladders, platforms, stairways and walkways provide secure and compliant access designed to maximise worker safety and minimise risk. Just like portable ladders, it is crucial that the right type of permanent access system is installed to meet the job and safety requirements. For example, Anchor Safe were contracted to replace a non-compliant caged ladder that didn’t allow contractors to carry equipment up onto the roof safely, with a 4-stage stairway system. See our case study here.
Of course, the key component in ladder falls is human error. The age and physical ability of the user must be taken into account to ensure they are able to safely use the ladder. Similarly, adequate training, supervision and procedure must be in place to ensure workers understand the basics of ladder safety. As always if you are unsure about the safety or compliance of an access and egress point in your workplace, seek the advice of a trusted height safety professional.
Create Emergency Procedures
No height safety system can provide complete assurance of user safety, as there are numerous variables at play, including the possibility of human error. Even if a fall arrest system prevents a user from falling, it may leave them suspended and potentially injured. Other accidents involving tools, machinery, slips and falls, or medical emergencies such as heart attacks could also occur.
To prepare for such situations, it is important to have comprehensive accident and rescue plans in place for workers at height, and to ensure that workers are familiar with them. This ensures that the necessary equipment and procedures are available in case of an emergency. While we hope that rescue plans and equipment are never needed, proper preparation can be crucial in the event of an accident.
Ensure Adequate Training, Certification and Supervision
Its been mentioned consistently above but the importance of proper training for people working at height can not be overstated. Adequate height safety training is an essential component of compliance and safety for employees or contractors working at height. This training equips workers with the knowledge and skills needed to work safely at heights, including an understanding of the hierarchy of hazard control, the forces generated in falls, and specific hazards such as the pendulum effect, swing back, and suspension trauma.
In addition to general training, it is crucial to provide workers with training specific to the height safety systems installed at your work site to ensure their competence in the systems’ use. Workers must also have proof of receiving appropriate training and information on how to use the height safety system safely. By providing comprehensive training and ensuring that workers are familiar with the specific safety systems in place, you can help to minimise the risk of falls and promote a safer working environment.
If you have workers completing tasks at height it is important to;
- Ensure the worker is adequately trained and certified to complete the task and use the systems designed to protect them.
- Provide pre-job safety planning and regular toolbox talks to instill a culture of safety.
- Provide adequate supervision to ensure all safety procedures and practices are being followed and carried out effectively.
Comprehensive Height Safety Services
Anchor Safe offers comprehensive height safety services to building owners and facility 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.