Australian law requires those overseeing workplaces to establish fall risk management protocols to mitigate hazards, especially when employees are working from heights.
Obviously, procuring height safety equipment is a good measure to take, but employers should take more of a solutions-focussed approach. This involves conducting a comprehensive risk assessment and implementing protocols that address those dangers.
The framework of a risk assessment
Conducting a risk assessment involves following five steps.
For businesses’ convenience, the Queensland Government developed the Working at Heights Risk Assessment Template (the Template). The document dictates how managers can address fall risks on ladders, work platforms, roofs, ledges, openings and other areas where workers could fall from heights.
The Template advised those in charge to follow a five-step process:
- Identify hazards associated with particular tasks
- Determine the risks inherent in falling from heights
- Implement recommended control measures
- Approve specific activities
- Deploy, monitor and review controls
Employers can apply these five measures for multiple processes, whether they’re managing tree logging operations or window washing crews.
Acknowledging hazards and assessing risks
Identifying potential hazards and their associated risks involves visiting the job site. The key is to determine the implications of carrying out certain responsibilities at specific locations. For instance, Safe Work Australia maintained that administrators must pay attention to tasks performed at height-specific locations, including:
- Structures or plants that are being constructed, demolished, dismantled, tested, etc.
- Unsteady or fragile surfaces such as rusted metal roofs and skylights
- While using equipment (i.e. ladders, scaffolds) to work at higher levels
From there, employers must deduce how specific tasks will increase the risk of injury. While assessing processes is a must, administrators must also gauge their employees’ knowledge of working safely at heights. In addition, they must assess the suitability of workers’ clothing, the distance of a potential fall, whether there’s enough light for people to see and other concerns.
Each job site has its own height hazards.
Eliminating the hazards
If feasible, it’s best to eliminate hazards completely. This could involve completing work on the ground or on a solid construction, which may be a walkway, stairway or ladder. Under Queensland law, this is regarded as a ‘Level 1 Control’.
However, there are times when Level 1 Controls are not feasible to implement based on the job’s stipulations. For example, Level 2 Controls consist of passive fall protection measures such as installing guardrail systems and walkways.
No hazard is the same. Some apply to arborists while others concern metal fabricators. Employers must carry out height risk assessments by addressing the hazards specific to their businesses, following general guidelines to develop best practices.