Dust and particulate safety

Source: WAHA Member, Height Safety Engineers – Article by Matthew Hatton

The inhalation of dust and particulate matter created during building or maintenance work presents a significant health hazard to workers across all industries.

The creation of dust and other particulate matter that can become airborne is something that is largely unavoidable when completing building, construction, or maintenance work. It is created when all sorts of materials are cut, drilled, or taken to with a grinder.

Some particulates, asbestos fibres for example, have been known to be hazardous for over 30 years now. While the hazards presented by other dusts and particulates – like crystalline silica – have only become known more recently.

Like many other types of hazards in the workplace, there are times when the creation of dust or particulates is unavoidable. In these situations, it is vital that correct and compliant mitigations be put in place to protect workers, other building occupants and the public.

What is asbestos?

Put briefly, asbestos is the collective name for a range of naturally occurring silicate mineral fibres. These fibres were used in a wide range of building and machinery products.

Its widest use occurred during the 20th century, while its effects on health were known. Although its use started to be phased out in Australia through the 1970s and 80s, it was not completely banned until late 2003.

Asbestos was an incredibly versatile substance and at the time of peak use was found in everything from building insulation and cladding to hair dryers and cosmetics. Perhaps most famously, the snow used in the Wizard of Oz film was made of pure asbestos.

Inhalation of asbestos fibres poses a significant risk to a person’s health. Fibres embed themselves in the lungs and, over time, can cause fatal respiratory diseases and cancers, including mesothelioma.

What is crystalline silica

Like asbestos, crystalline silica is a naturally occurring substance. It is a type of silicon dioxide, a substance that is one of the most abundant on the planet found in soil, rocks, and sand. The most common form of crystalline silica is the mineral quartz.

Crystalline silica is also a prominent component of manufactured stone. This type of stone has been used extensively in kitchen bench tops. It is also a core component of bitumen, grout, glass, and cement.

Silica dust is created when workers chip, drill or grind objects that contain silica, including crystalline silica. Like asbestos, these dust particles can become airborne and, when inhaled, embed themselves in the lungs.

While any single exposure to crystalline silica dust can lead to serious health problems, the probability increases dramatically with repeated exposure.

Minimising dust and particulate creation

Like any workplace hazard, the risks of exposure to asbestos and other dangerous particles can be mitigated by applying safety controls. Determining what controls can be used is done through completion of a risk assessment and application of the hierarchy of controls.

As is ever the case, the best protection against exposure to dust and particulates is to not use materials that create dust and particulates. When it comes to using stone and stone products, that could involve getting pieces pre-made offsite thus not requiring any cutting, or drilling to be completed as part of the installation process.

If drilling, cutting, or grinding material is required, then dust is likely to be produced and efforts to minimise or capture it should be made. This can include the use of different tools, utilising dust capture and extraction machines, using water to keep the point of cutting or grinding wet to stop dust becoming airborne and cleaning tools regularly to clear them of excess dust and particulate.

Minimising the spread of dust and particulates

Even if controls are put in place to minimise the creation of dust, efforts should still be made to limit the spread of any dust or particulates that are generated. The best way to go about this is to isolate the area where the dust-creating work is taking place.

If the working area is indoors, steps should be taken to seal off the area from the rest of the building, and the outside. This includes looking doors, windows, vents, exhaust fans and any other way airborne particles and dust could spread beyond the controlled work area.

Care should also be taken when it comes to clothing. Dust and particulates can attach themselves to a worker’s clothes, which are then taken off-site, back home and all places in-between. The best protection against this is the use of protective coveralls. These are worn over the top of regular clothes and removed at the conclusion of work, prior to departing the controlled area.

Mitigating inhalation risk

All control measures relating to dust and particulates are to reduce the likelihood that airborne fibres and particles are inhaled by a worker or other person. Along with all the measures that can be taken to limit the creation of dust and its spread, specific PPE is also going to be required to add a further layer of protection.

Generally, this takes the form of a face mask. Masks come in a variety of shapes and types, each with specific benefits, drawbacks, and scenarios they should be used in. When it comes to working with hazardous substances like crystalline silica and asbestos, the face mask chosen should be designed for those specific particles and fibres. It should also form a complete seal around the mouth and nose – this requires it be fit tested.

Protective eyewear should also be used. Although we do not breathe through our eyes, dust and fibres can still make their way into the body through the eyes. Humans tend to touch their faces often. It is a subconscious action, and a very easy way for hazardous substances to be transferred from the hands to the face.

Identification is key

Understanding where the risks of dust and particular exposure – especially asbestos and crystalline silica – are and what to do if it is present at a worksite is the most important step that can be taken to mitigate the risks of exposure.

11084NAT Course in asbestos awareness and 10830NAT Course in crystalline silica exposure prevention are nationally accredited training courses that provide detailed information on what the dangers of these substances are, where they are typically located, what to look for before you start work and how exposure prevention controls can be implemented.

For those needing to conduct work on asbestos containing materials 10852NAT Course in working safely with asbestos containing materials provides skills and techniques for being as safe as possible while working in situations where the risks of asbestos exposure are greatest.

Announcing Brendan Sutton as new Chairperson of the Working at Height Association of Australia. 

As of the 17th of August 2023, Brendan Sutton has accepted the role of Chairperson for the Working at Height Association (WAHA) of Australia. Brendan assumes this role from Michael Biddle, who has served as the chair of WAHA for over 14 years. 

“I can think of no better person to hand the reins of the WAHA to, than Brendan Sutton. With outstanding height safety expertise and a great level of personal energy, I know the association will be in good hands under Brendan’s leadership. I look forward to supporting Brendan in his transition to the Chairperson’s role”

Michael Biddle

Brendan is the Managing Director of Altura – Height Safety Professionals, a professional height safety and access consultancy based in Perth, WA.

Brendan has been reviewing and designing maintenance access and height safety systems across the built environment since 2004 and has accumulated an impressive portfolio of successful works. Brendan has served as a Director of the WAHA since 2020. Specialising in the development of complex access strategies, Brendan has extensive experience within the building and construction industry. His passion for projects that combine architectural, engineering and equipment design – making him a key resource to the Association.

“Michael has provided an immeasurable contribution to the association during his time. Whilst he is one of the uniquely matched professionals within our industry to perform as the Chairman, we recognise that for the association to be sustainable and grow it can’t be reliant on any single person. Moreover, it goes without saying that Michael has more than fulfilled his obligation to the role and deserves an opportunity to focus on other priorities. I’m honoured by the encouragement from my fellow board members to step into this position and feel excited about the future prospects of the association. I’m confident that the board and leadership team will bring more value and positive influence to the industry going forwards”

Brendan Sutton

Michael will continue to be involved with the Association as a Director. With a lengthy history and a wealth of expertise and knowledge in height safety and confined space matters, we are pleased to have his input continue within the Association.

Worker fatally injured after falling through skylight panel

Source: WorkSafe Queensland

In June 2023, a worker was fatally injured when he fell through a polycarbonate roof panel, approximately five metres onto a concrete floor. Early enquiries indicate the worker was about to clean solar panels when he fell through the panel.

Safety issues

Falls, particularly through roofing, are a major cause of workplace deaths and serious injuries. The risk from a fall depends mainly on:

  • fall control measures
  • the height at which the work is being done
  • the surface directly below the work at height area.

There may also be additional risk when working on or near fragile surfaces. Surfaces are likely to be fragile if they are made with:

  • asbestos roofing sheets
  • poly carbonate sheets (alsynite) or plastic commonly used in skylights
  • fibre cement sheets
  • liner panels on built-up sheeted roofs
  • metal sheets and fasteners (especially when corroded).

Before working on any surface at height, inspect the surface to identify potentially fragile spots as well as corroded or damaged fixings. These issues may not be easily identifiable if the lighting is poor.

All locations and tasks which could lead to a fall injury should also be identified. This includes access to areas where the work is to be done. Close attention is required for tasks:

  • on any structure or plant being constructed or installed, demolished or dismantled, inspected, tested, repaired or cleaned
  • on a fragile surface (for example, poly carbonate or cement sheeted roofs, rusty metal roofs, fibre glass sheeting roofs and skylights)
  • on a sloping or slippery surface where it is difficult for people to maintain their balance (for example, on glazed tiles or a metal roof that is wet from morning dew or rain)
  • near an unprotected open edge or internal void area (for example, removed roof sheeting)
  • where the demolition or dismantling sequence is important in ensuring the surface can continue to support the worker.

Where surfaces are non-trafficable, provide appropriate fall prevention/protection measures and develop work methods to prevent people from stepping or falling onto these surfaces.

To ensure the necessary control measures are being applied as the work progresses, an ongoing review of the work should also be carried out.

Safety issues both general and specific to the incident are included here.

Ways to manage health and safety

Effective risk management starts with a commitment to health and safety from those who manage the business. If an incident occurs, you’ll need to show the regulator that you’ve used an effective risk management process. This responsibility is covered by your primary duty of care in the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

Use the hierarchy of controls to help decide how to eliminate and reduce risks in your place of work. The hierarchy of controls ranks types of control methods from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest. It’s a step-by-step approach to eliminating or reducing risks. You must work through the hierarchy of controls when managing risks, with the aim of eliminating the hazard, which is the most effective control.

Possible control measures to prevent similar incidents

In managing the risk of falls, the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011requires specific control measures to be implemented, where it is reasonably practicable to do so. For example:

  • if it’s construction work, then Chapter 6 of the WHS Regulation applies
  • if the work meets the definition for high-risk construction work (over 2m and a complete roof replacement of a large shed), then a safe work method statement must be prepared as per Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011. Further regulations would also then apply (for example Part 6.3 Sub-division 2 ‘Falls’ which provides prescriptive control measures).

The Managing the risk of falls at workplaces code of practice 2021 (PDF, 3.9 MB)provides practical guidelines to meet requirements.

The most effective control measure is to eliminate the risk of a fall by working on the ground or from a solid construction. If the cleaning cannot be carried out from ground-level or a solid construction, then you will need to, so far as is reasonably practicable, minimise the risk of a fall. Effective controls for the risk of falls from height are often made up of a combination of controls. Common control measures can include, but are not limited to:

  • Using an Elevating Work Platform (EWP) so workers can remain within the EWP and avoid standing on the surface. This is primarily an example of substitutingthe hazard for a lesser hazard. However, an EWP design may also be considered an engineering control measure and the EWP must be assessed to determine whether it is the most suitable one for the task/s.
    • The safe operation of EWPs also relies on safe work procedures (i.e. administrative controls), which includes ensuring operators hold the relevant High Risk Work Licence HRWL (where required) to operate the EWP.
  • Installing safety mesh, complying with AS/NZS 4389:2015 under the roofing and skylights and erect perimeter edge protection (complying with the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 around the perimeter of the roof. Mesh must be overlapped and secured in accordance with the instructions of the mesh manufacturer. Both safety mesh and edge protection are primarily engineering control measures that address the risk of falling through the roof or off the roof edge. However, safe systems of work need to be implemented for workers installing the safety mesh and edge protection.
  • Travel restraint systems intended to prevent a fall from an edge by physically restricting how close a worker can get to the edge. These systems are generally unsuitable where a fall through a roof can occur (where the roof is fragile or there is no safety mesh under the roof sheeting). They also largely rely on worker training and the worker following a safe system of work. A travel restraint system is a combination of an engineering control (system design), administrative control and personal protective equipment (PPE)(tethering lines and harness).
  • Fall arrest systems are the least preferred risk control measure because they do not prevent a fall occurring but arrest the fall once it has occurred. This relies on the worker being able to attach to the anchorage point prior to getting into a position where the worker could fall. The worker can still be injured, even if the fall arrest system is set up correctly (and is rated to go over an edge) and the worker’s fall is arrested before they hit the ground or another obstruction. After the fall, the worker must be rescued both promptly and safely. Fall arrest systems are primarily PPE but also rely on engineering controls (anchorage point strength, harness and lanyard design) and administrative controls (making sure the lanyard is connected and not too long).

In addition to the hierarchy of controls, the manufacturer’s instructions should be followed for the safe operation and use of plant, machinery and/or systems engaged by the PCBU.

Note: Any administrative control measures and PPE rely on human behaviour and supervision, and used on their own, tend to be least effective in minimising risks.

The control measures you put in place should be reviewed regularly to make sure they work as planned.

Silica and falls the focus of construction blitz

Source: SafeWork NSW

Reducing the risk of falls from height and exposure to crystalline silica dust are the focus of WorkSafe Victoria and SafeWork NSW as they team up for the latest cross border construction blitz in Yarrawonga-Mulwala next week.

Inspectors will visit worksites in Victoria and NSW from 21-25 August to educate employers on their health and safety obligations, identify existing risks and ensure safety requirements remain consistent on both sides of the border.

WorkSafe Director Construction and Earth Resources Matt Wielgosz said proactive inspections in a high-risk industry like construction were incredibly important.

“It’s a million times better to identify and fix safety issues beforehand than it is to see a workmate suffer a horrific injury or death that could’ve been easily avoided.”

Since 2018 in Victoria, there have been 20 fatal falls from height in the construction industry, and construction workers accounted for almost a third of all workers injured in falls, making up 2,283 of the 7,769 claims accepted by WorkSafe.

“Every single injury and death caused by falling from height is preventable if the right safety measures are in place,” Mr Wielgosz said.

Falls from height is the number one cause of traumatic fatalities on NSW construction sites, with 16 people killed between 2018 and 2022. Workers aged between 20 and 29 experience the highest number of falls and those aged over 50 make up the highest number of fatalities.

SafeWork NSW Executive Director Compliance and Dispute Resolution Matt Press said inspectors had proactively visited more than 80 construction sites in the NSW Murray region so far in 2023, issuing 187 improvement notices, 37 prohibition orders and eight penalty notices for unsafe work.

“This year we have also responded to eight dangerous incidents on top of 21 serious injuries, so we’re targeting this cross-border region with our Victorian colleagues to hold duty holders to account on their site safety performance,” Mr Press said.

Inspectors will also seek to ensure employers are identifying high-risk crystalline silica work and preparing hazard control statements prior to commencing the work.

Mr Wielgosz said although many in the construction industry knew about the dangers of crystalline silica dust when working with engineered stone, fewer knew that this building material wasn’t the only worry.

“Cutting or crushing products like ceramic tiles, concrete, bricks and marble without appropriate protection can also put workers at risk of respiratory diseases like silicosis.”

“There are, however, measures employers can and must take to protect workers engaged in high-risk silica work, including providing tools with water suppression, supplying well-fitted PPE and carrying out air monitoring,” Mr Wielgosz said.

Since 2018, WorkSafe has accepted 321 injury claims from workers exposed to crystalline silica dust, with 16 reported fatalities.

“These figures are heartbreaking,” said Mr Wielgosz. “But they strengthen our commitment to educating employers and construction workers on the steps they must take to maintain a safe workplace, no matter which side of the border they’re working on.”

New Strategic Partnership: Formwork Industry Association

WAHA is proud to announce our partnership with the FIA, the national body representing the Formwork Industry.

The Working at Height Association (WAHA) and the Formwork Industry Association (FIA) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) under which both organisations have agreed to support activities and education opportunities which enhance safety in the workplace and empower workers to make better decisions whilst working at height.

Both WAHA and FIA have agreed to lend their respective expertise in the professional development of the industry and to provide guidance to each other in the design of content and technical material affecting those key stakeholders. 

Joint activities undertaken as part of this agreement may include: seminars, workshops and training, needs assessment advisory undertakings, qualifications development and professional leadership development.

The opportunity to collaborate with professional organisations ensures that the WAHA mission is relevant to those affected by working at height and that our activities align with the broader objectives of education and empowerment. Ultimately we are here to ensure people go home safely to their families at the end of the day, and working with respected and established bodies like the FIA helps us both connect with those stakeholders around safety, and make those who in the construction industry a safer one in which to work.

WAHA CEO Scott Barber

As not-for-profit professional bodies, WAHA and the FIA have long histories of supporting safety in the workplace and the promotion of higher levels of competency for safety. The transfer of skills and knowledge is paramount for active participation in safer work practices.

New Strategic Partnership: Scaffolding Association of Australia

WAHA is very happy to announce our partnership with the newly formed Scaffolding Association of Australia (SAA), the national body representing the Scaffolding profession across Australia.

The Working at Height Association (WAHA) and Scaffolding Association of Australia (SAA) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) under which both organisations have agreed to support activities and education opportunities which enhance safety in the workplace and empower workers to make better decisions whilst working at height.

Both WAHA and SAA have agreed to lend their respective expertise in the professional development of the industry and to provide guidance to each other in the design of content and technical material affecting those key stakeholders. 

“Safety is a core value that will remain at the forefront of our efforts as an industry association and the Scaffolding Association Australia will work tirelessly towards creating a safety-centric culture within the scaffolding community. Collaborating with the Working at Heights Association will play an essential role in enabling us to lead and advocate for our industry as our mission as industry associations align. Together we can work towards influencing policy decisions, drive industry-wide initiatives, and contribute to the overall growth and development of the construction sector. We look forward to working collaboratively as a combined voice to protect workers at height and continue to advocate for safer workplaces across Australia.”

SAA Managing Director, Robert Thiess.

Joint activities undertaken as part of this agreement may include: seminars, workshops and training, needs assessment advisory undertakings, qualifications development and professional leadership development.

“The opportunity to collaborate with professional organisations ensures that the WAHA mission is relevant to those affected by working at height and that our activities align with the broader objectives of education and empowerment. Ultimately we are here to ensure people go home safely to their families at the end of the day, and collaborating with SAA helps us both amplify the messaging around working at height, and continue to develop education and training materials to make the scaffolding and rigging community a safer one in which to work.

WAHA CEO, Scott Barber.

As not-for-profit professional bodies, WAHA and SAA support the increased focus on safety in the workplace and the promotion of higher levels of competency. The transfer of skills and knowledge is paramount for active participation in safer work practices.

WorkSafe Queensland release new Industry Code for respirable crystalline silica dust exposure.

Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace has approved Queensland’s new Managing respirable crystalline silica dust exposure in construction and manufacturing of construction elements Code of Practice 2022 (PDF, 1.71 MB)

The new Code is Australia’s first silica dust code of practice for the construction industry and commenced in Queensland on 1 May 2023. It applies to all construction work as well as the manufacturing of materials such as bricks, blocks, tiles, mortar and concrete.

The Code outlines how duty holders can meet the requirements of Queensland’s work health and safety legislation, including eliminating or minimising exposure to respirable crystalline silica (RCS) at work by:

  • using tried and tested dust control methods that prevent silica dust from being generated or being released into the air, including water suppression and on-tool dust extraction
  • using appropriate respirable protective equipment to safeguard at-risk workers
  • using exposure data from air monitoring to check dust controls are effective
  • providing health monitoring to at-risk workers, with clearly defined triggers for testing based on level of risk
  • consulting with workers, as well as training, education, instruction and supervision of workers.

The Code was developed in close consultation with workers, employers and technical experts across Queensland, building on international best practice to ensure silica dust is managed safely and workers are protected in the construction industry and the manufacturing of construction materials.

Dealing with the complexities in height safety management

Source: Article By Scott Barber, for Inside Construction.

As the number of complex building and infrastructure projects around the world continues to rise, Working at Height Association Chief Executive Officer Scott Barber delves into the complexities associated with height safety management in the construction industry.

Image Courtesy of RIGCOM Pty Ltd 2023.

Increased complexity is a challenge facing many organisations. Understanding key risks and how to apply suitable solutions is critical, but how do we distil the problem to find the best remedy?

Most efforts to improve safety are still based on the assumption that our safety management systems are effective, and that it is the behaviours of individuals, who either take shortcuts or fail to follow procedures that create unsafe workplaces. It’s an easy line to follow if there is a disconnect between safety management and the actual application of policy and procedures.

When we put our faith in these systems, we must understand that while an individual safety management system may be coherent and logical, it is always surrounded and impacted by other factors. It’s not only considerations like environment, weather and changes in the workspace dynamics (particularly in construction – different trades and structural changes), but it’s the appropriateness and versatility of the systems and more importantly, the working at height competency of those working in the space that will determine the best outcomes.

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All implemented systems need to align with the WHS Act and Regulations, taking into consideration the PCBU requirements for providing a safe workplace. Then there is the importance of aligning with the appropriate standards. But these are base level compliance KPIs, proper safe design and training are the critical pieces of the puzzle.

The important point here is that each of these systems and processes has an end purpose or goal, so it follows that each of these goals influences how work is completed and where attention is focused. Unfortunately, these systems and goals, while each important and valid in its own right, interact in such a way that they create layers and complexities that are rarely intended or well understood.

These layered and sometimes complicated procedures can introduce inefficiencies, and if not understood clearly and aligned with an understanding of the core competencies required to perform tasks safely, can make it difficult for workers to apply. This can result in a significant gap between work as envisioned, based on idealistic compliance with our safety systems and procedures, and work as executed where our workforce does their best to balance these competing priorities.

In managing safety effectively, leaders need to develop a greater understanding of the complexities that the work location creates in the execution of those tasks that need to be undertaken. The skills required to work safely at height sit parallel to trade and engineering skillsets, so the actual execution of those safe work methods needs to align with the work being carried out. This type of understanding would include recognising the difficulty frontline managers, supervisors and the workforce face in understanding, rationalising and applying the intent of those safety protocols in practice. In other words, while our safety systems look great in the comfort of our offices, we really need to look at them from the perspective of our teams in the field.

Understanding and managing complexity

One of the most significant consequences in not understanding the complexity in height safety is oversimplification. Not understanding or adopting the working at height hierarchy of controls leads to the assumption that applying the lower tiers of control measures (PPE and Administrative) provide effective enough protection for those at risk. This oversimplification is a common phenomenon, as the implementation of PPE measures is a highly visible indicator, but often the issues with this approach are only recognised after an incident has occurred.

All too often, the incident focuses on the behaviours or actions of the individual, and this almost always arises from hindsight bias and failing to take into account the realities of the situation from the perspective of those involved in the event.

Assuming the systems put in place effectively address the risk profile, how much consideration is made for the core competencies required to operate at height safely, and the maintenance of these skills, in delivering the safety outcomes desired?

It is very easy to apply hindsight in the investigation of fall events, highlighting ‘flawed decisions’ and ‘missed opportunities’ when looking back at the approaches to safety that were taken. But this view only looks at how the task should have been done. What we need to account for is that the situation and actions taken by the individual may have seemed completely rational at the time. The question is, was the worker trained well enough and genuinely competent to assess the risk appropriately and have the experience to be situationally aware when applying the safest methods of achieving the set tasks.

The challenge for safety managers is to be able to assess why the worker thought the work methods they were using at the time of the incident were rational.

But by providing practical and relevant education and training, we empower individuals to make better and safer decisions, and with it, the ability to apply the systems put in place by management. By encouraging genuine skills and expertise, there can be collaboration with safety leadership in the development of better work practices. When we can achieve that level of understanding, we will have the greatest opportunity to identify the competing goals, complexities and systemic influences that, if addressed, have a much greater chance of preventing fall events.

Addressing the challenges

We need to challenge the way we currently manage fall risk, and this extends to how we manage the associated and linked hazards of dropped objects and confined space. Questioning and challenging our current safety paradigms are the inherent responsibility of safety managers, but are we informed and expert enough to look at this holistically?

It is very easy to adopt pre-packaged solutions to address the risk, but without understanding the complex nature of the discipline and the variety of measures available to manage the high-risk nature of the work, this path leads to heightened exposure to all affected. Adopting a more ‘critical thinking’ approach to PPE/PFAS and systems selection, which is informed by a better understanding of the nature of work being carried out at height, will lead to much better outcomes. Ultimately, this comes down to education, information availability and engagement.

Embracing the complexity of working at height does not necessarily complicate the situation but provides a more robust framework of assessment and application of best practice work methods. There is not one solution to fix all situations, but that does not mean there are not comparable approaches and cross-overs in skills and equipment. Understanding the potential hazards informs our decisions as professionals, and opening conversations within the safety community around how we have successfully managed these challenges benefits every single stakeholder, including the families of those we expect to operate in these environments.

We need to encourage leaders to engage in these discussions and learn from our peers. We do not operate in silos, so supporting safe working at height means collaboration with our community, industry associations and subject matter experts. There are relationships between safe design principles and system design, integration and execution, and to acknowledge the complexities of this interaction potentially inspires advancements in our approach. We have not seen any real changes in the statistics for many years, so broadening our view to include these external factors and the different layers and interactions that make up best practice can only lead to positive change.

We can try to segregate education/training from our safety management systems from these other influences, but this is just another form of oversimplification. They are indelibly linked and this forms part of the structure of more holistic approaches.

My advice to organisational leaders and safety professionals wanting to embrace a new and fresh approach to height safety is to acknowledge the complexities, both systemic and personal, that exist in modern workplaces. We must broaden our view to include not only what makes up our safety management system, but all the external factors that potentially interact and affect the safe execution of those systems.

Adopting this approach will encourage leaders to avoid deconstructing individual elements of a system when trying to find why something went wrong and will encourage them to look at the system as a whole.

While we will struggle to address every risk factor on dynamic and changing worksites, if we engage and listen more carefully to our workforce and embrace complexity by looking at systems holistically, we will have the chance to see these layers and interactions. This will provide the opportunity to proactively identify and mitigate some of these risks and to change the way that we and our workforce perceive safety at height.

Roofing company fined after worker seriously injured

Source: SafeWork NSW

Parrish Group NSW Pty Ltd has been fined $300,000 after a worker was seriously injured falling from a roof in Kembla Grange near Wollongong in March 2020.

Head of SafeWork NSW Natasha Mann said the company was sentenced in the NSW District Court for failing to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers.

“The 25-year-old was fitting guttering to the building when he stepped through a gap and fell about 6.8 metres to the concrete slab below,” Ms Mann said.

“From March 2020 onwards, the company changed the way they installed guttering which meant workers left gaps along the length of the guttering where the sumps were to be installed.

“The changed method of work relied on workers maintaining awareness of the areas of unsupported guttering. A risk assessment would have identified and assessed the hazard of the inadequately supported areas.

“This court outcome demonstrates SafeWork NSW’s dedication to enforce the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and hold those who don’t follow the rules to account.”

Parrish Group NSW Pty Ltd has a right to appeal the sentence.

Workers and businesses are urged to take a zero-tolerance approach to risks of falls and injuries in workplaces and can stop accidents before they happen with the NSW Government’s free Speak Up Save Lives app.

Small business owners and sole traders are reminded they can apply for a NSW Government rebate of up to $1,000 to make their workplaces safer with $1 million recently added to the Small Business Rebate Program. Read more about the SafeWork small business rebate.

Learn more about working at heights safely.

Fall protection inspection and certification: more than just a tick-box exercise

Article for Sourceable.

Inspections can’t be missed

Regular inspections are vitally important. Not only are they a regulatory obligation, but ultimately, they help save lives. That’s why it pays to partner with professionals with the necessary experience and competency to inspect and certify your fall protection equipment. Can you afford not to?

There is a wide spectrum of potential issues that may arise when inspecting fall protection systems and PPE, all of which need to be addressed. After all, by its very nature, fall protection equipment can be exposed to the harshest conditions. It’s also important to remember that the general state of PPE and systems can often be influenced by the competency of the person that has used the system and equipment and how frequently it has been used. 

Approach to quality inspection

Some initial questions to consider when inspecting systems and PPE should include; 

  • Has the system been accurately installed within the manufacturer’s guidelines? 
  • Has it been configured properly with the right components? 
  • Are calculations that help ensure safe levels of load absorption accurate? 

If the answer to any of the above questions is “no”, then those working at height could be exposed to an unacceptable level of risk.

Some key issues that quality inspection should cover include: 

  • Inspection of all energy absorbers
  • Checking the cable for damage/signs of wear and tear
  • Any signs of corrosion
  • Re-tensioning of the cable if required
  • Inspecting lanyards and harnesses for cuts, fraying or breaks in the stitching
  • Looking for signs of damage to fittings

Potential issues

By no means does quality inspection stop there. Sometimes, upon scrutiny of the system an inspection may reveal that the system and equipment in place is not correct for the application. The original design process should have identified the key access areas needing to supported by a system and included PPE selection criteria appropriate for the type of work needed to be carried out.  

It’s imperative that the PPE used is compatible with the system in place and that in combination they create is the safest solution for the tasks required. Understanding the difference between a fall restraint system which prevents you from falling versus a fall arrest system protects you after you fall is important when determining the risk factor and how it should be addressed, so it is imperative that the PPE used by an operative is suitable for the type of system they are connecting to. Even understanding how a “fall restraint” system falls under “fall arrest” as a work position informs PPE selection. Remember, as well as inspecting and certifying it, a high-quality fall protection expert should also be able help you specify and install the right equipment at the very outset of a project.

Systems exposed to extreme weather conditions can degrade over time, and while to a certain extent this is an expectation, how quickly this occurs is dependent on the quality of the materials that constitute the fall protection equipment. Not only does this reinforce the importance of regular quality inspections and re-certification, but it should also be a timely reminder to invest in high quality equipment and solutions to mitigate accelerated environmental degradation, maintain safety standards, and ultimately reduce maintenance costs. While the initial financial outlay may potentially be higher, ultimately you will likely reap the benefits of a lower total cost of ownership.

Good preparation begins with quality training

While the responsibility for the safety for those that work at height sits with the PCBU, ultimately the operators themselves should be able to take some responsibility for their own safety. Unfortunately, despite “training”, some people still lack the appropriate knowledge, experience and/or practical training required to be able to accurately identify whether the PPE or a fall protection system is safe to use. This is a major concern, as failure to do so properly could be lethal. That’s why quality appropriate application based education and training is often the best form of first defense.

Remember the fundamentals

Having the right equipment in place and adhering to regular quality inspection and re-certification is important, but it counts for little without all required risk assessments and safety methods statements in place. Even with annual re-certification, all equipment needs to undergo rigorous pre-use checks prior to accessing the work area. Organisations with employees that work at height can employ an external company to come in and check PPE and systems. Some will train people within the company to check equipment themselves. Either way, proper checks need to have been done before use. 

 More than just a tick-box exercise

Inspection and certification are critically important, but unfortunately many still see it as a compliance issue, rather than the life-saving obligation that it is. There is a clear responsibility under the WHS Act to provide a safe workplace for your people, and ensuring systems to manage high-risk activities are intact, safe and fit for purpose is clearly covered under this obligation. If you own, specify or use fall protection equipment, you have an ethical and legal responsibility to ensure that inspections are carried out in an accurate and timely fashion. Ultimately, lives may depend upon it. 

Scott Barber – CEO, Australian Working at Height Association (WAHA)

Scott is a professional marketer, copywriter and safety specialist with over 20 years’ experience designing, driving and facilitating communication and education as a fundamental engagement tool.
Specialising in safety and rescue, both operationally and as a consultant, he uses his experience across multiple industries to deliver solutions targeting specific stakeholders using communication as the critical driver for change.