Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) height safety regulations come into effect once workers are required to complete a task over 2m above ground. Under this height, worksites should use due diligence, assessing potential fall hazards and ensuring they are appropriately managed. Work conducted over a height of 2m is considered ‘high fall risk’. Worksites are then required to manage this risk by implementing reasonable and practical controls.
In order to manage risk under WHS regulations the persons with primary duty of care are required to:
IDENTIFY any reasonably foreseeable hazards that have the potential to lead to risk
ELIMINATE said risk as far as reasonably practical
IMPLEMENT control measures to reduce the risk as much as reasonably possible if it is not practical to eliminate the risk
MAINTAIN implemented control measures so it remains effective
REVIEW AND REVISE potential risks and implemented controls to maintain a work environment, as far as reasonably practical, that is without risks to health and safety
Once this review has been completed, the WHS Act requires that those with duty of care consult their workers, allowing them to comment on any actions that will directly impact their own health and safety. These comments must be taken into account during the risk management process.
Ensuring that the correct control is implemented can be complex and is entirely dependent on the task at hand. In some instances the fall risk may be completely eliminated by carrying out the job at ground level. In other instances, mitigating the risk may be the only option. Deduce what control is most appropriate for your job by using the simple ATOMise hierarchy.
Hierarchy of Controls for Preventing or Reducing the Risk of Falls
Eliminate the Risk
Eliminate fall risk entirely by avoiding the need to work at height. If you are able to complete the job at ground level, do so. This includes using extension poles or devices to reach items on or near a roof, installing equipment (such as air conditioning units) at ground level or lowering broken equipment to the ground for repair.
Reduce the Risk
If you are not able to eliminate the risk entirely, determine ways that you could reduce it. Ask if part of the job can be done at ground level to minimise the total time spent at height, or if it can be done at a lower height reducing the potential fall distance.
It is not always possible to eliminate or reduce the risk. If this is the case, the first option to consider is fall prevention devices. Fall prevention devices protect workers from falling from heights by creating a barrier between the worker and a risk area. Such devices include guard railing, scaffolding or elevated work platforms including cherry pickers and scissor lifts.
Work Positioning Systems
If it is not practical to use fall prevention barriers, restrict workers’ movements by using a restraint system. Work positioning systems require a worker to be anchored to a central point by a lanyard restraint attached to their personal harness. Limiting movement to only where work needs to be conducted will prevent a worker from possibly reaching an edge where there is a fall risk.
Fall Arrest Systems
In the scenario where none of the above controls are practical, a fall arrest system should be used. These systems do not prevent the worker from falling, but reduce the severity and potential injuries caused by a fall. Fall arrest systems include shock absorbing lanyards or lifelines attached to personal harnesses and anchor points, safety nets and catch platforms. When using a shock absorbing lanyard, the anchor point should be above or level with the place of work to limit free fall. Fall arrest systems should always be used as a last resort, and never in place of earlier controls.
A Note on Safety Nets
Although safety nets are designed to arrest falls, they should not be used as the sole fall protection method. Always use safety nets in conjunction with edge protection such as guard rails and a fall arrest system comprising of a harness, shock-absorbing lanyard or lifeline and anchor point.
Any safety net used for fall arrest must comply with AS/NZS 4689, which sets out net minimum requirements for design, construction, testing and installation for a variety of building applications. Simply, the net should be constructed of 2mm diameter wire that is no less than 450MPa tensile in strength. This should then be welded into a mesh with longitudinal wire no more than 150mm apart and cross wires no more than 300mm apart.
When installing your safety net, make sure you abide by any of the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure adequate protection.
Contact your local ATOM Safety representative to organise an onsite height safety assessment.