Working at heights comes with it considerable risks where a fall from height is very possible. Industries such as construction, mining, oil and gas and manufacturing all have the need for workers to conduct work at height. Many tasks at height are unavoidable and workplace design is paramount to providing a safe work environment. Relying on fall protection should be the last line in preventing a fall from height. For this article, we take a look at fall from height from a risk management perspective: hazards, control measures and residual risk. We review the Australian Code of Practice: Managing the Risk of Falls at Workplaces to help understand the risks and provide strategies to mitigate or reduce the risk of a fall from height.
Fall From Height Injuries Are on the Rise
Countries such as Singapore, UK, US and Hong Kong have seen a recent spate of fall from height injuries. In Singapore, for example, fall from height injuries made up 20% of workplace injuries in the past five years. In the US, 42% of deaths between 1982 and 2015 in construction involved falls; 54% of workers killed had no access to a personal fall arrest system; and 20% of fatalities occurred in the victims’ first two months on the job. The explanation for this increase is often two-fold:
1. Poor design with a lack of barricading and warning signs, and
2. Poor training, whereby the information is not effectively communicated to workers in that it is delivered manually using paper-based methods that are time-consuming and fail to cater for individual worker learning needs.
In Australia, 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.
Strategies to Reduce Fall Accidents
Injuries caused by falls are more likely to be life-threatening than most other types of injuries. In order 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.
Interactive Fall from Height Training
Safety training should be a top priority for any company, regardless of the size or the industry. Safety training will educate staff on how to use tools, how to spot a potential hazard, and how to maintain a health and safety culture in the workplace that will spark awareness and interest in safety procedures among workers. Follow training up with effective supervision and you have a recipe that will help to address fall from height risks.
Tap into Safety has two courses that 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 have users moving around a live commercial construction site and the second story level of a house under construction. Contact us today to organise your obligation free trial.
Using temporary work platforms
Temporary work platforms include scaffolds, elevated work platforms (EWP), mast climbers, workboxes, building maintenance units, portable or mobile fabricated platforms or any other platform that provides a working area and is designed to prevent a fall.
Scaffolding is an example of a temporary work platform and can be very effective protection in preventing falls and must adhere to standards in Australia and New Zealand. All scaffolding should be erected, altered and dismantled by competent people. It is important not to mix components on pre-fabricated scaffolds and safe access and egress must be provided. Finally, edge protection, including had rails, mid-rails and toe boards should be in place to prevent fall hazards and objects falling off the platform.
Scaffold awareness training
Tap into Safety has two safety training courses that train about fall from height hazards when using scaffolding in commercial construction. The 360-degree panoramic scenes begin with training about mobile scaffold safe erection on a lower floor of a high rise construction before moving to the top floor. The training looks at edge protection, weight and load restrictions, storage of materials, EWP and scaffold interaction, ladders and gates and safe access. Contact us today to organise your obligation free trial.