Working at height is highly hazardous, and it is a requirement by organisations to provide edge protection including handrails, barriers and fall arrest equipment to prevent a fall. A fall hazard is anywhere where a person could fall from one level to another.
Falls from height can lead to severe injuries and fatalities. Every year in Australia, on average, 29 people die from work-related falls. Half of the fatal falls involved distances of three metres or less, 31% from a height of two metres or less, and a further 19% involved falls from between two and three metres.
Between 1 January 2003 and 31 December 2015:
- 359 workers were killed following a fall from a height—11% of all workers killed over this period.
- Half of these falls involved falling three metres or less.
- The highest number of fatalities involved falling from roofs (59), ladders (54), vehicles (27) and horses (33).
- Workers aged 45 years and over made up 65% of those who died.
- The construction industry accounted for 37% of fall-related fatalities.
In 2020, falls from height accounted for 11% of all workplace injury fatalities in the construction industry, where 21 people died in that year.
For this article, we look at eight working at height safety myths to improve safer practices.
Read our article, Top Workplace Hazards in the Construction Industry.
1. It’s Just a Quick Job
No matter the length of the job – two minutes or all day, employers must provide compliant fall protection equipment. There should also be a risk assessment and a rescue plan in place before any work at height activities. PPE such as fall prevention must be available and worn, in the event a fall occurs. Sadly, there have been some recent fall accidents where employees have removed their fall arrest PPE and then placed themselves back at height to complete a little bit of the work that they had missed.
2. I’m Not That High Up
Many falls happen from working from relatively low heights. Even though you may only be working a few metres above the ground, a fall can still result in serious injury. Falls can happen when you access and exit machinery, buildings and structures.
The most effective way to protect workers from the risk of falling is to eliminate the need to work at height. The design, manufacture or modification of any plant or structure can significantly affect the risk of falls. Thoughtful design and early consideration of the potential risk of falls can result in the elimination of such risks.
3. Fall Protection is Too Expensive
Employers may think that installing fall prevention measures in their design is an additional cost that they don’t need. However, the costs of a fatality or serious injury can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars. There are investigation fees, fines, workers’ compensation costs, negative publicity, loss of productivity and the possibility of gaol time if found to be negligent.
An investment into specialist fall protection equipment, regular compliance testing, as well as associated working at height training, will prevent accidents with potentially fatal or life-changing injuries.
4. The Safety Harness Will Protect Me
When using fall arrest equipment, you must correctly calculate the fall clearance and ensure that lanyards and safety lines are the correct lengths. If you fall, you don’t want to come into contact with structures before your PPE has had a chance to protect you.
There are ways to calculate the safe fall clearance when setting up safety lines and lanyards. Measure the free fall distance, add the arrest distance, and be aware of the stretch of the lanyard and harness. Then add a bit extra to be safe.
5. Working Safely at Height is Common Sense
Assuming that employees have the skills and knowledge to work at height safely is flawed. Relying on common sense is equally so. Training on how to work safely at height is critical. Employees need to know what constitutes a fall risk, when and where to use fall arrest PPE, and the physical protection that can be used to prevent a fall from height.
6. I Don’t Need to Inspect My PPE
Safety equipment can fail, especially if you do not inspect it regularly and maintain it. Relying on the equipment is not enough. When using fall arrest PPE, you should always check before you use it. Check for any signs of damage or deterioration, frayed belts or broken catches. If you find any defects, the equipment should not be used and tagged out of service. Keep the equipment clean and in good working order.
Remember that each piece of fall arrest PPE has a specified life span. Once that time has elapsed, it must be replaced, even if the equipment has had minimal use.
7. Emergency Services Will Save Me if I Fall
Relying on emergency services in the event of a fall from height is risky. You may be working in a remote location, or where you land may make access to you difficult. You must have in place a complete rescue procedure in the event of a fall. All employees should be trained in the procedure and be aware of what to do in an emergency.
8. My Reactions Will Save Me
It takes time for you to register that you are falling and those first few seconds you can travel around six metres. Your reactions will not save you from a fall because once you are falling, you cannot stop that from happening. It is easy to overreach from height equipment such as ladders, and before you know it the ladder is wobbling and you are falling.
What Should be Done to Prevent Falls From Height?
There are some significant measures that you can put in place to reduce these fall from height risks, including:
- Installing edge protection which incorporates a guard rail, mid-rail and toe board to the edge of any scaffold platform, fixed stair, landing, suspended slab, formwork, or falsework, where there is a risk of a person falling two or more metres.
- Providing a fall injury system, including fall arrest PPE where it is not practicable to provide edge protection.
See our article, What Can We do to Prevent Fall From Height Risks
Tap into Safety Height Safety Training Courses
We have developed several out-of-the-box safety training courses dedicated to helping improve awareness of working at height hazards. These courses focus on the risks to workers and train on the control measures to use to protect them.
- Working at Heights Refresher
- Working at Height in Commercial Construction
- Working at Height in Residential Construction
- Scaffold Erection and Working on the Top Floor
Also, many of our other interactive safety courses discuss working at height hazards in situated workplace settings, for example, maintenance workshops, processing plants, chain of responsibility and warehouses. These courses include a hazard spotting game using a panoramic scene, followed by microlearning instruction, and assessments underpinned by the hierarchy of control. This method is a terrific way to provide context for height hazards while encouraging engagement from the user in a fun and informative training activity.
Contact Us for more information.
This article is also available as a podcast on the Tap into Safety Podcast.