Every year in Australia, an average of 29 people die from work-related falls and we’re keen to investigate the role supervisors play in preventing fall injuries. Safe Work Australia report that half of the fatal falls each year involve distances of three metres or less – 31% from a height of two metres or less, and a further 19% involve falling from between two and three metres.
Reasons for the continued fall from height injuries include:
1. Poor design with a lack of barricading and warning signs, and
2. Non-engaging training, with low communication and interactivity. Training using paper-based methods that are time-consuming and fail to cater to individual worker learning needs.
Building on some of our articles this year on fall from height injuries and prevention, we investigate research that looks at the role of supervisors in preventing fall injuries. The study investigates if organisations who take the time to train supervisors in fall from height prevention strategies can decrease the number of unsafe behaviours across the whole workforce. The research notes that when supervisors focus more on fall hazards, their communication improves and safe behaviour increases.
In this article, we look at the problem of preventing fall injuries, the role of the supervisor and the strategies you can use to make working at height safer.
Preventing Fall Injuries Is a Problem For All Industries
A fall hazard is anywhere where a person could fall from one level to another. 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. In high-risk industries such as construction, environmental factors including the frequently changing environment, small contracting work crews, and multiple trades working on-site at the same time, increase the risk of fall hazards.
Economic stressors also play a part. When times are good, production pressures impact supervisors priorities. When times are slow, margins are low, and their workloads increase. The focus is on getting the job done, rather than their attention on identifying hazards and reducing the likelihood of workplace injuries.
Attitudes to safety, organisational culture, budget and training all impact workplace injury numbers. Where communication is clear, and there is a focus on safe practice, organisations see improvement. Where training is interactive and targeted to real examples of preventing fall injuries, organisations reduce the risk of fall hazards.
We write about the need to deliver engaging training, that uses adult learning principles, that moves away from ‘death by powerpoint’, that provides the content in short and sharp messages with real and practical examples to address the risk.
See our articles, How Can You Achieve Value from Your Safety Training? and Why Your Safety Training is Not Working.
How Approachable Are Your Supervisors?
The study results show that apprentices in the construction industry are pretty good at spotting and reporting unsafe areas that can lead to fall injuries. They believe that safety is a priority, but there was often not enough time to work safely and meet production deadlines. Although they understand the importance of reporting safety issues, they expect that their supervisors will not consider their suggestions to improve safety and instead want them to concentrate on working faster and getting the job done. One apprentice states:
It’s part of the job-working at heights, and you know that. You know when you walk on the job site that there’s a good chance of getting hurt, and you just have to take that and not let it happen.
Supervisors report that the most challenging part of their job is meeting productivity expectations. Keeping workers safe and following safety requirements are the second priority. In this study, only 50% of the supervisors surveyed suggest that they fully understand fall from height protections. Communication about safety expectations was also low. One supervisor states:
You never have enough time to do things right, you really don’t. All you can do is cut down on those mistakes and do it as safely as possible.
Improving daily toolbox sessions is a regular and quick method to encourage safe behaviour. Effective communication by the supervisors is the key. The study developed a training curriculum to teach supervisors safety communication and mentorship skills. Feedback, positive recognition, and daily discussions that emphasise safety are the most effective tools.
See our article, Making Toolbox Talks Effective Safety Training.
Strategies to Reduce Fall Injuries
Fall injuries are more likely to be life-threatening than most other types of injuries. To manage fall from heights risk, Safe Work Australia reminds that under the Australian WHS Regulations; organisations must:
- identify reasonably foreseeable hazards that could give rise to the risk
- eliminate the risk so far as is reasonably practicable
- if it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk – minimise the risk so far as is reasonably practicable by implementing control measures in accordance with the hierarchy of control
- maintain the implemented control measure so that it remains effective
- review, and if necessary revise, risk control measures so as to maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a work environment that is without risks to health and safety.
Work from the ground wherever possible – eliminating the need to work at height is the most effective way of protecting workers from the risk of falls. Complete activities at ground level wherever possible, for example, by using prefabrication methods and tools with extendable handles.
Work on a solid construction – platforms with barriers, including a safe means of entry and exit. The surface and its supports must be able to safely carry the expected loads, including
workers, materials, tools and equipment.
Protect against openings and holes – covers must be made of a material that is strong enough to prevent persons or objects falling through and must be securely fixed to prevent any
unintended movement or accidental removal. Ensure adequate warning signs are in place stating “Hole Beneath”.
Work surfaces should be securely fixed, non-slip, free from trip hazards and should not be steeper than 1 in 8 gradients.
See our article, What Can We Do To Prevent Fall From Height Risks?
Tap Into Safety Height Safety Training
Tap Into Safety has been working closely with the Master Builders Association and with their expert knowledge we have specific working at height safety training courses. The modules train about fall from height hazards in both the commercial construction and residential construction sectors. The training covers falls at the same level, falls from height and falls to depth, as well as falling objects.
Training on fall hazards includes edge protection, scaffolds, work platforms, fall arrest equipment, holes and penetrations and general housekeeping. The 360-degree panoramic scenes are engaging and interactive. The training can be completed online and on smart devices, in under 15 minutes. On the training platform, we have 4 out-of-the-box height safety training modules on:
- Commercial Construction at Height
- Residential Construction at Height
- Scaffold Erection
- Scaffolding on the Top Floor