INFORMATION SHEET: WORKING AT HEIGHTS

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1 INFORMATION SHEET: WORKING AT HEIGHTS A fall from any height can cause serious injury or death. If the fall is from a height of two metres or more the risk of serious injury or death is increased. A fall hazard is defined as an object or circumstance that will introduce or increase the risk of a fall. The objective is to eliminate or reduce the effect of identified fall hazards. All industry sectors are exposed to the risks presented by fall hazards although the level of incidence varies considerably. The injuries sustained as a result of falls are usually related to falls from equipment, vehicles, roofs, ladders, platforms, scaffolds, stairs, and falls into shafts and pits. Common situations that have lead to serious falls are: Working off ladders Working from ladders that are of poor quality, badly maintained, or incorrectly positioned and not secured top and bottom. Working on a scaffold or working platform without guardrails. Working above the guardrail without additional protection. Working in and around lift wells and stairway openings without guardrails. Working on roofs constructed of brittle material. Riding on crane-suspended loads. Cleaning windows from narrow ledges without a safety harness and line. Working in an area where holes in the floor are not covered or protected by guardrails. Working from suspended scaffolds without safety belts or harnesses. 1

2 In some cases safety equipment or guardrails have been provided at the start of the job, but have been discarded, poorly maintained or simply not used. A good example is when a section of perimeter guardrail is removed to allow access for materials to be landed on one level of a building. Once the materials have been unloaded, the guardrail is not replaced creating a hazard to any worker in the area. Ladder falls Ladders are used in all types of construction work but some controls should be implemented including; Some examples are: Eliminate work off ladders to perform difficult or hard to reach tasks or if the task is expected to take a long period of time. Do not use ladders in any form of disrepair including ladders with split, rotten or broken styles, Do not use Ladders with missing rungs or step ladders with String used on step ladders instead of locking spreader bars. Ensure Ladders are positioned on correctly on an incline. Ensure Ladders are tied or secured properly at the top and bottom. Ensure Ladders extend at least 1m past the working platform. Do not use Ladders on surfaces that are uneven, at different levels or with styles resting on blocks, or on soft ground. Avoid using ladders in wet conditions IDENTIFYING THE HAZARDS Hazards must be identified prior to commencing work. There are a number of ways to identify potential sources of injury. 2

3 Consultation with workers is one of the easiest and most effective means of identifying hazards. Based on their experience with a job, workers are usually aware of what can go wrong and why. Unions may also be of assistance in gathering health and safety information relating to falls from heights. Always consider the task to determine whether there is a risk of a person/object falling especially when carrying out work: On fragile, slippery, sloping or unstable surfaces Near unprotected edges, holes, shafts, pits or trenches On construction, demolition, inspection, testing, maintenance, repair or cleaning of any plant structure Using equipment to access elevated levels Working at heights also increases the risk of injury associated with general hazards such as manual handling, exposure to ultraviolet radiation and exposure to hazardous or dangerous chemicals and this should be considered when conducting the risk assessment. ASSESSING THE RISK The appropriate control measures for a particular system of work are generally determined by individual job factors. Employers and self-employed persons must identify any foreseeable hazards, assess their risks and take action to eliminate or control them. Risk management is a regulatory requirement. The risk management process is a problem solving process that when taken step-by-step, will lead to informed decisions about how best to avoid or control the impact of risks. Workers must be involved when undertaking risk management. This is a regulatory requirement. There are four basic steps: 3

4 Step 1: Identify the problem (hazard identification). Step 2: Determine how serious a problem it is (assess the risks). Step 3: Decide what needs to be done to solve the problem (eliminate or control risks). Step 4: Review the risk assessment process and control measures to ensure risks are still adequately addressed. Factors to consider when assessing the likelihood and severity of risk associated with falls include: Condition of the work surface e.g. an uneven surface or a surface with unprotected edges which are not identified or are difficult to see Bad weather conditions e.g. heavy rain or wind Who may be at risk (including people on the ground and in the vicinity of work area) Location of the work area Location of access routes Type of work to be carried out Work practices in use Scheduling of work Type of plant, machinery and equipment to be used Training and experience of the people carrying out the work Moving from one surface to another Capability of the surface to support the load Change of levels Loss of hand grip Type of footwear Equipment, tools, or rubbish obstructing work areas 4

5 Incorrect use of ladders Clothing catching Moving surfaces Lighting Likelihood of being struck by a moving or falling object. Controls Health and safety laws require specific measures to control the risks associated with working at heights. In particular, the workplace should have a system in place to prevent you from falling and to prevent objects that fall from heights hitting you or others. Clause 56 of the NSW OHS Regulations specifies the measures to control the risks associated with falls from heights. Unlike other areas of the OHS Regulation, the appropriate risk control measures are not solely determined by conducting a risk assessment. Instead, Clause 56 specifies a mandatory hierarchy of controls, which to address to the risks associated with people falling from heights. This hierarchy of controls informs the risk assessment process. An employer must also ensure the provision of a safe means of movement between different levels at the place of work i.e.: safe access/egress to and from work areas. There are particular requirements that apply when using each control measure including fall arrest devices. The NSW Occupational Health and Safety Regulation 2001 requires that certain measures are taken to control the risks associated with working at heights. Chapter 4 of the OHS Regulation deals with known hazards associated with specific work premises and working environments. It prescribes controls that must be applied to manage them. Chapter 4 Division 5

6 6, specifies particular risk control measures. These measures address the risks associated with working at heights. Division 6, Working at heights is made up of the following provisions: Clause 56 specifies particular risk control measures relating to the prevention of falls from heights. Clause 57 specifies particular risk control measures relating to falling objects. Clause 58 specifies particular risk control measures relating to scaffolding. Clause 59specifies particular risk control measures relating to lifts. Clause 60 specifies particular risk control measures relating to brittle or fragile roofs. Clause 61 specifies particular risk control measures relating to building control maintenance. Clause 142 specifies particular risk control measures for powered plant used to lift or move people. Working from scaffolding Scaffolding falls Scaffolding is used on most construction sites to provide a safe working platform at any height. Often, however, safeguards to prevent workers falling from scaffolding and working platforms are altered, not maintained or in some cases not installed at all. Scaffolding, as well as temporarily erected structures, intended or used to support sheetings, hoardings, guardrails, means of access or egress and entertainment equipment, must be erected and dismantled by suitably qualified people. All scaffolding over four metres in height must be erected by a certificated scaffolder (clause 265, clause 266 and clause 270 OHS 6

7 Regulation). The scaffold must be inspected within the last 30 days and has been signed by the appropriate person this is often indicated by the attachment of a scafftag. There must also be safe access to and egress from the scaffold platform (Clause 56 OHS Regulations 2001) Each working platform and access platform must have full edge protection comprising handrail, mid-rail, and toe board or a handrail and infill panel (clause 58 (d) and clause 94 OHS Regulation). Scaffolding safety checklist When working from a scaffold ask yourself: Is the scaffold erected on a firm foundation? Are all guardrails in position and at the correct height? Are the working platforms fully planked? Are these planks secured in position? How far is it from the innermost plank to the workface? (225mm max) How far is it from the outermost plank to the edge of the scaffold? What form of access is provided between platforms? Do you require a safety belt or harness? The safe use of guardrails The perimeter of buildings, structures, pits, tanks, floor openings, etc, should have guardrails to stop people falling over the edge. The guardrails should have the necessary strength so that they are able to withstand the impact of a person falling against them. Where guardrails are used, they should be in place prior to any work commencing and should not be removed until all work is complete. Guardrails should be erected by competent persons trained in the safe erection and dismantling of guardrails. 7

8 The safe use of mobile elevating work platforms Before hiring mobile elevating work platforms, the employer (who hires the equipment) must carry out a risk assessment to ensure the mobile elevating work platform is appropriate for the intended work. This process should also include the selection and use of the appropriate configuration of mobile elevating work platform for the task. Out-of-level audible and/or visible alarms should be fitted on any mobile elevating work platforms that are not provided with out-of-level limiting switches. Where practicable the alarm switches should be fail safe in their design. Persons operating mobile elevating work platforms must be properly trained in their operation and use. Note: A certificate of competency is required to operate boom-type mobile elevating work platforms with a boom length greater than 11 metres. Mobile elevating work platforms are designed as a work area and not for access purposes. Persons should only egress from an elevated Mobile elevating work platform in an emergency or if a thorough risk assessment identifies that as the only practicable means of gaining access to an area. Every person working in the cherry picker should wear an appropriate fall arrest device connected to a dedicated anchor point in the basket. The mobile elevating work platform should be left in a properly stowed safe configuration whenever it is unattended. It should not be left extended as it may make the unit unstable. Other types of temporary platforms There are other types of temporary work platforms available such as mast climbing work platforms and crane workboxes. Some of these have specific requirements for design registration under the OHS Regulation. If you have to 8

9 work on a floor area with holes for service ducts, ensure these are covered and barricaded to prevent unauthorised access. Similarly, if you are cleaning windows on a multistory building and you have a safety harness, use it. Don't wait for an inspector to tell you it may be too late. And most importantly do not be afraid to ask for a harness if one is not supplied or to ask advice if unsure, this 5 minutes you take to clarify an issue may save your life. PERSONAL FALL PROTECTION Systems of work and equipment that secure a person to a building or structure are known as personal fall protection. Personal fall protection systems should be used to minimise the risk of: A person falling from a height (travel restraint devices) Injury to a person after they have fallen from height (fall-arrest systems). Personal fall protection may be required to be used in conjunction with other fall protection systems. The use of these systems requires appropriate training to ensure the equipment is worn, attached and used in the correct way. SEE ALSO FACT SHEET: SLIPS, TRIPS AND FALLS 9

10 Useful Resources NSW WORKCOVER Safe working at heights: Guide NSW WORKCOVER Working at heights - Part 1: Falls from heights NSW WORKCOVER Working at heights - Part 2: Falling objects Manual Handling National Code of Practice [NOHSC:2005(1990)] NSW Risk assessment: Code of practice NSW Safe work on roofs, Part 1 - Commercial and industrial buildings: Code of practice NSW Safe work on roofs, part 2 - residential buildings: Code of practice Slips, Trips and Falls Risk Management Tool NSW Code of Practice- RISK ASSESSMENT NSW Code of Practice OHS Consultation 2001 This material was developed by Unions NSW with the assistance of The Workers Health Centre as part of a project funded under the WorkCover NSW WorkCover Assist Program. Any views expressed are not necessarily those of WorkCover NSW. For more information please contact your union. This Fact Sheet is recommended as a guide only and is not a substitute for professional or legal advice. If you need clarification or further advice please consult your Union for further information 10

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