Too many falls from height are caused by a failure to plan and organise work properly. Start by planning a safe approach.
Planning safe working at height means:
- identifying the hazards
- assessing the hazards
- controlling the hazards
- monitoring your approach
- documenting your approach.
Identify the hazards
Identify any hazards of working at height where someone could fall. Four ways of identifying hazards are:
- Physical inspections—walk around the workplace using a checklist to identify and manage hazards.
- Task analysis—identify the hazards involved in each task of the job.
- Process analysis—identify hazards at each stage of the production or service delivery process.
- Analysis of accident investigation—identify hazards and causal factors from investigations involving similar types of work.
Assess the hazards
Decide if the identified hazards are significant. How badly harmed someone would be if they fell and how likely a fall could be? If serious harm could result, then it’s a significant hazard.
Control the hazard
Now keep people safe from the identified significant hazards.
Select the best work method to eliminate, isolate or minimise (in that order) the potential for harm resulting from the significant hazard.
A combination of controls may need to be used to control the hazard. However, eliminating the hazard is the best option. But remember, doing nothing is not an option.
- Can the hazard of working at height be eliminated?
- Could long-handled tools be used from ground level?
- Could structures be built at ground level and lifted into position on completion?
- Can the hazard of working at height be isolated?
- Could edge protection be used?
- Could a guard-railed work platform (eg, scaffold or elevating work platforms) be used?
- Could a total restraint system be used to prevent a fall occurring?
- Can the distance and impact of the fall be minimised? Only take this step when elimination and isolation options have been exhausted.
- Could a fall arrest system be used?
- Could nets or air bags be used to minimise the impact of a fall?
Where unguarded trestles or platforms are used, or the work will be done from a ladder or stilts, the risk of harm shall be minimised through management controls and the provision of appropriate training. Management controls include effective housekeeping protocols and clear procedures for safe use of the equipment.
Group controls versus personal controls
As well as the hierarchy of controls, think about the controls that protect multiple people from falling. These are group controls. The best work methods are those that don’t require any active judgement by the workers to keep themselves safe, such as edge protection, scaffold, and elevating work platforms.
Personal controls only look after individuals and rely on active judgement by the user for them to work safely (eg, fall restraint harness and fall arrest). Training, inspection and equipment maintenance are critical for these personal control measures to be effective.
How to select the right equipment
Figure below provides assistance for selecting the best equipment for keeping people safe at height. This figure steps through a comprehensive range of possible controls, starting with the most effective – elimination, and then working through isolation and minimisation.
As each control is assessed, it is practical to consider the following:
- Working conditions
Slopes, poor ground, obstructions and traffic can determine the choice of work equipment. For example, an elevating work platform (EWP) could reach over bad ground or obstructions as long as its stability was not compromised. An EWP may be preferable to a tower scaffold in such circumstances.
- Distance to be negotiated for access and egress
Ladders are likely to be less suitable for higher access.
- Distance and consequences of a fall
A fall arrest system would be ineffective if the deployment length was greater than the fall height. The user would hit the floor before the system could deploy.
- Duration and frequency of use
Long-duration, higher frequency work justifies a higher standard of fall protection, eg, a tower scaffold rather than a ladder. However, a ladder may be justified for short duration low-risk repetitive work.
If rescue from a deployed fall arrest system is going to be difficult, choose other work equipment, eg, an EWP.
- Additional risk posed by the installation and removal of work equipment
An EWP used by one person may entail less risk than exposing two or three people to erect a tower or scaffold for the one person to work safely.
Monitoring the approach to working at height safely
The approach should be constantly assessed to ensure it is effective and fit for purpose. This could mean carrying out regular inspections of the control measures, discussing the control measures at tool box talks and site meetings with contractors, and actively supervising the work.
Document the approach to working at height safely
A good record of the planning process and communications with clients, contractors, workers, and other site visitors should be maintained.
The selection of work equipment linked to hierarchy of controls