Fall Protection in the Construction Industry & Important COVID-19 Precautions.

by Scott Barber for Sourceable.

Working at height is a high-risk activity and a leading cause of death and serious injury within the construction industry.

In fact, Safe Work Australia reports that between 1 January 2003 and 31 December 2015, 359 construction workers died as a result of falls from a height. This accounted for 37% of all fall related injuries and fatalities.

Dire consequences can result from an unsafe workplace, so height safety compliance is critically important.

As far as is practicable, the person responsible for any work being carried out needs to understand his or her obligations to managing the risk of someone falling from height. Precautions may include:

  • That work is carried out either on the ground or from a solid construction.
  • That there is a safe means of access and exit to a workplace.
  • That the risk of falls is minimised by providing a fall prevention device, work positioning system or fall arrest system.

As the regulator, Safe Work Australia has provided information on its website that outlines the risks of working at height and how to manage these risks in line with the Australian Standards. For more information, see www.safeworkaustralia.com.au

Protecting workers from falls from height

Wherever practicable, protecting workers from the risk of a fall should be done by eliminating the need to work at height. If this is not possible, other preventative measures may include installation of fall prevention equipment.

This equipment is designed to prevent a fall and once installed, doesn’t require any further adjustment by workers using it. It may include:

  • Guard rails or barriers.
  • Fall Arrest harnesses, lanyards and safety lines.

Regardless, adequate fall protection to mitigate the risk of a fall is mandatory and systems should be designed to provide a safe system of work.

Fall prevention systems should be considered at the design and planning stage of any project and may include:

  • Roof safety mesh
  • Guard railings and barriers
  • Scaffolding or elevated work platforms
  • Fall prevention devices
  • Work positioning systems

With any fall arrest system, work procedures should be developed on how to correctly install, use and maintain the system.

The importance of training and maintenance

Whilst fall protection equipment can assist in the management of risk, it will only provide the protection needed if workers are adequately trained in its use and the equipment is well maintained.

Maintaining PPE equipment helps to provide confidence and safety in the work arena, whereas quality training provides workers with knowledge on how to inspect their equipment before and after use, as well as how to clean and maintain it.

The Australian Standard AS/NZS1891.4 provides information on inspections and maintenance. It is referred to by the Regulators in their work practice documents, providing guidance for persons involved in working at height. Further information on the Standards can be found in the Working at Height Inspection Bulletins available from  www.waha.org.au

Web based products are required to be inspected six monthly by a Height Safety Equipment Inspector who is trained in the skills needed to detect faults in the equipment and to determine remedial action.

Why does equipment degrade?

There are a range of possible reasons why materials used in fall protection equipment degrade. This includes general wear and tear; abuse; edge/surface damage; ultraviolet light (certainly very prevalent in Australia); dirt; grit; chemicals; excessive loading; and if they have been used to protect a worker from a fall.

Textiles can deteriorate slowly with age regardless of use, however the most common cause of strength loss in textile equipment is through abrasion (either by grit working into the strands or by chafing against sharp or rough edges) or by other damage such as cuts. Any equipment that shows such signs of damage should be destroyed.

In addition, textile equipment which has suffered a high shock load (impact force), or that has had a load dropped onto it, should also be removed from use.

The Australian Standards AS/NZS1891.4 refers to AS/NZS1891.1, which specifies that harnesses or web-based height safety products should be removed from service and not used again after 10 years from date of manufacture.


It is essential that the person carrying out any inspection is competent to do so. In the case of pre-use checks, this is likely to be the user, however detailed and interim inspections should be carried out by a qualified Height Safety Equipment Inspector who should be sufficiently independent and impartial to allow them to make objective decisions, with appropriate and genuine authority to take the appropriate action.

This does not mean that inspector must necessarily be employed from an external company, although many companies and lone workers arrange do choose to outsource their inspections.

Employers should establish a regime for the inspection of equipment, drawn up by a competent person, which should include:

  • A list of equipment to be inspected (including their unique identification);
  • Frequency and type of inspection (pre-use checks, detailed inspection, interim inspection and servicing);
  • Designated competent persons (Height Safety Equipment Inspector) to carry out the inspections (note that a competent person may need to be trained by a manufacturer or their authorised representative on specific PPE or other equipment and may need to have that training updated due to modification and upgrades);
  • Action to be taken on finding defective products;
  • Means of recording the inspections;
  • Training of users;
  • Means of monitoring the inspection regime to verify inspections are carried out accordingly.

Interim inspections may also be required in instances where the risk assessment has identified a risk that could result in significant deterioration of equipment, which may affect its integrity before the next detailed inspection is due.

This may be particularly necessary in arduous working environments that involve paints, chemicals, grit blasting operations and acidic or alkaline conditions. The results of interim inspections should be recorded and maintained.

Cleanliness and COVID-19:

Whereas there has always been the requirement for fall arrest equipment to be kept clean and dry, the arrival of COVID-19 virus has highlighted the need for increasing vigilance when it comes to cleaning and disinfecting equipment.

It is reasonable to assume that construction industry workers may come into contact with a person who unknowingly has the virus. Equipment used by this worker could become contaminated, with a risk of spreading the virus to other workers.

Cleanliness is king in this environment. Research suggests that the virus can survive on hard surfaces such as plastic and stainless steel for up to 72 hours (three days), particularly as many work surfaces and PPE have hard surfaces.

There appears to be little research on how long the virus lives on fabric. Although it may be less time than on hard surfaces, the best method of defence is to clean and disinfect your PPE regularly.

The Department of Health provides information on the need to clean and disinfect PPE. Information can be found at Department of Health’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Environmental cleaning and disinfection principles for health and residential care facilitieswww.health.gov.au

The Department of Health recommends disinfectants suitable for use on hard surfaces (ie. surfaces where any spilt liquid pools and does not soak in). This may include alcohol in a concentration of at least 70%; chlorine bleach in a concentration of 1000 parts per million; oxygen bleach; or wipes and sprays that contain quaternary ammonium compounds. These chemicals will be labelled as ‘disinfectant’ on the packaging and must be diluted or used following the instructions on the packaging.

Concentrated bleach can damage polyester fibres, whereas diluting the bleach may reduce this damaging effect. CHOICE Australia recommends that when cleaning woven materials such as webbings found in fall arrest equipment, that they be cleaned in a mild soapy warm solution, rinsed in clean water and then treated with a disinfectant. For more information, see www.choice.com.au

From all this, one thing is certain. Coronavirus has not only changed the way we work, but also added another layer to ensuring health and safety in the workplace as we adapt and refine our work methods moving forward.

Abattoir fined $35,000 after worker’s fall

A mutton abattoir has been convicted and fined $35,000 after an employee fell from a raised platform and hit his head in 2019.

Ararat Abattoirs Pty Ltd pleaded guilty in the Ararat Magistrates’ Court on Friday to one charge of failing to provide and maintain safe systems of work, so far as was reasonably practicable.

The company was also ordered to pay costs of $2,930.

The court heard that workers would stand on a 1.5-metre-high platform to load refrigerated shipping containers with boxes of mutton.

On 2 November 2019, a worker was performing this task when he fell from the platform, hitting his head on the ground. He was taken to hospital and discharged two days later.

A WorkSafe investigation revealed that employees were at risk because the task of loading the shipping container was being performed on a raised platform, in proximity to an unprotected edge, with no fall protection in place. 

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said all workplaces must ensure they are doing everything reasonably possible to prevent the risk of falls from heights.

“Already this year there has been one death due to workplace falls. That comes after eight deaths and 1,307 injury claims for falls from heights last year,” Dr Beer said.

“Thankfully, nobody was killed in this case, but it serves as a warning to all employers to ensure they take proper measures to reduce or eliminate such risks.”

Tips on controlling the risk of falls in the workplace:

  • If possible, perform any work on the ground.
  • Use a passive fall prevention device (e.g. scaffolding or guard railing).
  • Use a work positioning system (e.g. industrial rope access system).
  • Install a fall arrest system (e.g. a catch platform).

Source: WorkSafe Victoria

Near-miss leads to $25,000 fine for unsafe lifting

A heavy-duty trailer manufacturer has been convicted and ordered to pay more than $30,000 after a trailer fell while being lifted, narrowly missing three workers.

MaxiTRANS Australia Pty Ltd was sentenced in the Ballarat Magistrates’ Court on 18 January after pleading guilty to a charge under the Occupational Health and Safety Act for failing to maintain systems of work that are, as far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risk to health.

The company was fined $25,000 and ordered to pay costs of $5,742.

The court heard that on 20 June 2018, three workers were using two cranes to lift a partially constructed trailer at its Wendouree premises. Workers usually did this by attaching chains to lifting lugs, which were fixed to the trailer using a magnetic drill.

However, on this date, the magnetic drills were being repaired. The court heard that workers instead looped a chain and hook around rails at the front and rear of the trailer, before lifting.

As a worker was placing a support stand beneath the raised trailer it fell – hitting the stand, rolling to the right and narrowly missing all three workers.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said WorkSafe would not hesitate to prosecute employers who fail in their duty of care to maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health.

“This was a significant failure, which could easily have been catastrophic for the three workers involved,” Dr Beer said.

“The risks associated with working with cranes are well-known and there is no excuse for failing to ensure that safe systems are in place to protect workers.”

When using cranes, measures to manage the risks include:

  • Selecting the proper crane and lifting equipment for the task, size and weight of the load.
  • Ensuring cranes are maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications and requirements, and operated within their design parameters.
  • Checking that crane operators and persons connecting loads have the skills, training and licences to operate safely.
  • Creating and adhering to safe systems of work and ensuring all workers are properly trained and competent before commencing the task.
  • Considering environmental factors such as weather, ground bearing capacity, overhead and underground services such as powerlines and pipes/drains, and ensuring non-essential persons are excluded from the area of operation.
  • For construction work, ensuring a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) is created and adhered to.

Source: WorkSafe Victoria

WA releases draft work health and safety regulations

Original Article Posted at Safety Solutions Magazine.

WA releases draft work health and safety regulations
Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/buranatrakul

Western Australia has released exposure drafts of regulations for the Work Health and Safety Act 2020, ahead of the commencement of major work health and safety (WHS) reforms in March 2022. The Act brings together work health and safety for general industry, mines and petroleum operations, all under a single WHS Act. Releasing the exposure drafts of the supporting regulations will provide an opportunity for all participants in Western Australian workplaces to prepare themselves to meet the requirements of the new Act and to improve safety in their workplaces.

The regulations will come into effect in March 2022; Industrial Relations Minister Stephen Dawson has encouraged the community to begin familiarising themselves with the regulatory requirements of the Work Health and Safety regime that will come into force in 2022. Drafting the WHS regulations for all three sectors, which are needed to allow the WHS Act to be proclaimed, was a complex process. In recognition of the importance of this legislation, the state government has allocated significant resources to the drafting process and partnered with peak employee and employer bodies to ensure a wide distribution of information about the WHS laws. This approach will complement promotional activities being undertaken by the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety to other important stakeholders, as well as a government-funded education and awareness campaign.

“Every Western Australian has the right to expect a safe workplace where at the end of their day’s work they can return home to their loved ones uninjured and healthy. I encourage everyone to take the opportunity to access the exposure draft regulations and to take the time that is available to prepare themselves,” Dawson said.

The exposure drafts of WHS regulations can be accessed below:

Other applicable legislation:

The Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety will be running WHS update sessions during January and February. The sessions will be held in Perth metro and regional areas, with live streaming where possible. Webinar recordings and videos on WHS implementation are also available.

SafeWork Australia Release New Guidance

Source: SafeWork Australia.

Have your workplace arrangements changed recently? It’s important to remember that COVID-19 risk management is an ongoing process, not a one-off. See our website for information on risk assessments, including how to review and monitor control measures and assess any new or changed risks.

Risk management is a proactive process that helps you respond to change and facilitate continuous improvement in your business. It should be planned, systematic and cover all reasonably foreseeable hazards and associated risks.  

A risk assessment involves considering what could happen if someone is exposed to a hazard (for example, COVID-19) and the likelihood of it happening. A risk assessment can help you to determine: 

  • how severe a risk is 
  • whether any existing control measures are effective 
  • what action you should take to control the risk, and 
  • how urgently the action needs to be taken. 

The exposure of your workers and/or customers/clients to COVID-19 is a foreseeable risk that must be assessed and managed in the context of your operating environment. 

A risk assessment will assist to: 

  • identify which workers are at risk of exposure 
  • determine what sources and processes are causing the risk 
  • identify if and what kind of control measures should be implemented, and 
  • check the effectiveness of existing control measures

A risk assessment can be undertaken with varying degrees of detail depending on the type of hazard and the information, data and resources that you have available. It can be as simple as a discussion with your workers or involve specific risk analysis tools and techniques developed for specific risks or recommended by safety professionals. For some complex situations, expert or specialist advice may be useful when conducting a risk assessment. 

When should I do a risk assessment?

Managing work health and safety risks is an ongoing process that needs attention over time, but particularly when any changes affect your work activities. 

All currently operating businesses must assess the risks associated with exposure to COVID-19 and implement control measures to manage those risks. They must also assess any other new or changed risks arising from COVID-19, for example, customer aggression, high work demand or working in isolation. 

You must also undertake a risk assessment with response to risks to any vulnerable workers working in your business. Risk needs to be assessed and mitigated with consideration of the characteristics of the worker, the workplace and the work. This includes ensuring vulnerable people are redeployed to roles that don’t involve physical contact with customers, where possible. Where risk cannot be appropriately mitigated, employers and workers should consider alternate arrangements to accommodate a workplace absence. For more, go the Vulnerable workers information. 

Other examples of when businesses must undertake a risk assessment with respect to COVID-19, include where a business: 

  • changes work practices, procedures or the work environment 
  • recommences operations following a shut down 
  • increases operations following a period of reduced operations 
  • introduces workers back into the workplace following the cessation of working from home or stand-down arrangements 
  • is responding to workplace incidents (e.g. where a worker has tested positive to COVID-19) 
  • is responding to concerns raised by workers, health and safety representatives, or others at the workplace 

Risk assessments should be reviewed periodically as the operating environment changes (for example, in response to changes in COVID-19 cases or changes to public health orders) or when new information on workplace risks becomes available. This should include the periodic review of control measures implemented to ensure their ongoing appropriateness and effectiveness based on the latest information.

How do I do a risk assessment?

The model Code of Practice: How to manage work health and safety risks provides practical guidance about how to manage WHS risks through a risk assessment process. See also our information on key considerations for businesses to take into account when assessing the risks associated with COVID-19, as well as an example risk register.

A safe and healthy workplace does not happen by chance or guesswork. You have to think about what could go wrong at your workplace and what the consequences could be. Then you must do whatever you can (in other words, whatever is ‘reasonably practicable’) to eliminate or minimise health and safety risks arising from your business or undertaking. 

This process is known as risk management and involves the four steps (see Figure 1 below): 

  • Identify hazards—find out what could cause harm. 
  • Assess risks, if necessary—understand the nature of the harm that could be caused by the hazard, how serious the harm could be and the likelihood of it happening. This step may not be necessary if you are dealing with a known risk with known controls. 
  • Control risks – implement the most effective control measure that is reasonably practicable in the circumstances and ensure it remains effective over time. 
  • Review hazards and control measures to ensure they are working as planned. 

This process will be implemented in different ways depending on the size and nature of your business. Larger businesses and those in sectors where workers are exposed to more or higher risks are likely to need more complex, sophisticated risk management processes. 

Consultation with workers and their health and safety representatives is required at each step of the risk management process. By drawing on the experience, knowledge and ideas of your workers, you are more likely to identify all hazards and choose effective control measures

The risk management process
Figure 1. The risk management process

Where do I go to find information about risks and control measures?

General risks – Safe Work Australia’s website has information on known risksfor some industries and activities. Your industry association, jurisdictional WHS regulator and health department are also good sources of information.  

Business specific risks – You and your workers know your business better than anyone. Working in consultation with your workers you can identify risks specific to your business and ways these can be addressed. If you need help with this you can call your WHS regulator for advice. For example, the Italian deli owner who knows they have a queue for their specialty bread every Saturday morning could allow customers to call ahead and have a loaf put aside for them to avoid the early morning queue. 

The unexpected – Some risks you might not be able to predict but you can pick them up by monitoring the work environment and checking in with your workers. For example, the local café offering home delivery during COVID-19 might suddenly find the demand is much higher than before but keeping up with this demand gives the chef a sore back. The café in consultation with their staff might put in anti-fatigue mats or re-task staff who used to wait tables to assist the chef.  

How do I know what is ‘reasonably practicable’?

Deciding what is reasonably practicable to protect workers or other persons from harm requires taking into account and weighing up all relevant matters, including (but not limited to): 

  • Likelihood of the hazard or risk occurring – the greater the likelihood of a risk occurring, the greater the significance of this factor when weighing up all matters and determining what is reasonably practicable 
  • Degree of harm that might result from the hazard or risk – the greater the degree of harm that might result from the hazard, the more significant this factor will be when weighing up all matters to determine what is reasonably practicable. Where the degree of harm that might result from the risk or hazard is high, a control measure may be reasonably practicable even if the likelihood of the hazard or risk occurring is low.  
  • Knowledge about the hazard or risk, and ways of minimising or eliminating the risk – this must take into account what the duty holder actually knows and what a reasonable person in the duty holder’s position would reasonably be expected to know 
  • Availability and suitability of ways to eliminate or minimise the risk – requires consideration of what is available and suitable for the elimination or minimisation of risk, and 
  • Costs associated with the available ways of eliminating or minimising the risk – after assessing the extent of the risk and the available ways of eliminating or minimising the risk, consideration can be given to whether the cost of implementing a control measure is grossly disproportionate to the risk.  

The highest level of protection that is reasonably practicable in the circumstances should be provided to eliminate or minimise the hazard or risk. 

See also our Guide: How to determine what is reasonably practicable to meet a health and safety duty and the model Code of Practice: Work health and safety consultation, cooperation and coordination

What do the ‘costs’ associated with eliminating or minimising a risk include?

The costs of implementing a particular control measure may include (but are not limited to) matters such as:  

  • costs of purchase, installation, maintenance and operation of the control measure  
  • any impact on productivity as a result of the introduction of the control measure, such as reductions in output and or increases in work hours. 

When considering costs you should also take account of any savings that may result from reductions in incidents, injuries, illnesses and staff turnover, as well as improvements in staff productivity. 

How do I determine whether the costs of eliminating or minimising a particular risk are ‘reasonably practicable’?

To determine whether expenditure to eliminate or minimise a risk is ‘reasonably practicable’ in the circumstances, you must consider: 

  • the likelihood and degree of harm of the hazard or risk,  
  • the reduction in the likelihood and/or degree of harm that will result if the control measure is adopted, and 
  • the available ways of eliminating or minimising the risk. 

The more likely the hazard or risk, or the greater the harm that may result from it, the less weight should be given to the costs of eliminating the hazard or risk. 

Where there are several options for eliminating or minimising a risk and they would achieve the same level or reduction in the likelihood or degree of harm, a duty holder may choose to apply one or more of the less costly options. However, choosing a low-cost option that provides less protection, simply because it is cheaper, is unlikely to be considered ‘reasonably practicable’. 

Importantly, the question of what is reasonably practicable in a particular circumstance is determined objectively, not by reference to your capacity to pay or other individual circumstances.  

If you cannot afford to implement a control measure that, based on the risk assessment and weighing up of the factors listed above, is necessary to eliminate or minimise the risk, you should not engage in the activity that gives rise to that risk. 

How do I know if the costs of eliminating or minimising a risk are ‘grossly disproportionate’?

To determine whether the costs of eliminating or minimising a risk are ‘grossly disproportionate’ you must balance the likelihood of the risk occurring and degree of harm that might result, with the cost of the control measure

It may not be necessary to implement costly control measures to eliminate or minimise a risk that has a low likelihood of occurring and would cause minor harm. However, it may be reasonable to apply less expensive controls to further lower the likelihood of the risk. 

What do I do if I find the costs associated with eliminating or minimising a risk are ‘grossly disproportionate’?

Where the cost of implementing control measures is grossly disproportionate to the risk, implementation may not be reasonably practicable and is therefore not required. The duty holder must then use a less expensive way to minimise the likelihood or degree of harm. 


Engineering company fined $300K after fatal crush incident

Original Article Published with Safety Solutions Magazine.

Engineering company Andrew Buchanan Engineering Ltd has been fined $300,000, following an incident in which a worker was fatally crushed at a Leitchville factory in Victoria in 2017. The company was sentenced without conviction after pleading guilty to two charges of failing to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, that the workplace under its management and control was safe and without risks to health.

The company was engaged to oversee the dismantling and packing of equipment at a decommissioned cheese factory, for relocation to New Zealand, when the incident occurred. However, there was no representative from Andrew Buchanan Engineering on site when a condenser weighing 770 kg was moved into a closed-top shipping container with a crane in December 2017.

Two workers were inside the container, preparing to remove skates from underneath the condenser, when it fell off a jack and crushed them. A 59-year-old man died at the scene, while another man was seriously injured. An investigation by WorkSafe Victoria revealed that there were reasonably practicable measures available that could have reduced or eliminated the risks associated with the task, including using an open-top or flat rack shipping container. The company also failed to ensure that the workers packing the equipment were appropriately supervised.

WorkSafe Victoria Executive Director of Health and Safety Dr Narelle Beer said it is crucial for duty holders to ensure proper plans are in place before high-risk work commences. “Workers must be provided with clear instructions on how to perform tasks safely, especially when working with heavy machinery. WorkSafe will not hesitate to prosecute duty holders who fail to do all that is reasonably practicable to protect health and safety in workplaces under their management or control,” said Dr Beer.

A-1 Engineering Pty Ltd has also been charged and will appear in the Bendigo County Court for an application on 2 February 2022.

To manage risks, WorkSafe Victoria urges duty holders to ensure that work involving lifting or suspending loads is thoroughly planned, to identify designated lifting areas, landing areas and load travel corridors. Duty holders should also ensure that the appropriate shipping container configuration is chosen for the specific piece of equipment being loaded or unloaded, and that an appropriate mechanical aid is selected to lift or move heavy machinery in a controlled manner. Workers must also receive the necessary instruction, training and supervision to enable them to perform high-risk tasks safely.

Ladder safety systems vs ladder cages: the new shift

Original article By Scott Barber, CEO of WAHA, for Safety Solutions Magazine.

Ladder safety systems vs ladder cages: the new shift
Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Mr.B-king

Regular access to elevated points on buildings or structures to perform routine maintenance or other tasks is not uncommon. In these situations, a fixed ladder integrated into or onto a structure is often used and it’s not unusual for a cage to be installed around the ladder in the mistaken thinking this will mitigate the risk of injury should a worker fall while climbing. But a fixed ladder with a cage is not a fall arrest system. In fact, as of 19 November 2018, the United States’ Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has taken the formal stance that cages are not considered compliant fall protection on newly installed ladders.

Research into the effectiveness of fixed ladder cages has shown that they do not provide sufficient protection from falls. This research prompted OSHA to provide new parameters that are intended to improve protection from falls at height, provide greater flexibility and ease of use for workers, and make decisions around compliance and suitable solutions easier to navigate. These OSHA General Industry regulations were updated to reflect the changing understanding of and attitude towards the safety of fixed ladder cages and ladder climbing in general. What this change effectively means is any fixed ladders that need to be installed, repaired or replaced must be done so in accordance with the new Standard. Installing a certified ladder safety system that includes vertical lifelines or overhead self-retracting lifelines (SRLs) are both options that provide safe and effective means of access, and are easy to install as part of a new build or as a retrofit to existing ladders.

In 1996, OSHA 1910.21 defined a cage as “an enclosure that is fastened to the side rails of the fixed ladder or to the structure to encircle the climbing space of the ladder for the safety of the person who must climb the ladder”. On the other hand, it defined a ladder safety device as a device “designed to eliminate or reduce the possibility of accidental falls”. The difference in these definitions shows the way both safety devices were viewed at the time those regulations were implemented. Ladder safety devices were specifically intended to prevent or arrest falls, whereas cages were intended to improve safety without any specific explanation as to how they would do so.

These changes to the OSHA regulations have not necessarily been immediately reflected in other international standards and codes, but this change does represent a broader shift in how we look at the associated risks of ladder climbing. There is an existing assumption around safety at heights that if a caged ladder ‘complies’ with the relevant building codes, and if an employee were to then slip and fall from the ‘compliant’ ladder, the employer or building owner would be safe from any litigation. But this is not the case. It is the responsibility of the building designer, owner and employer to provide a safe work environment. This means ensuring that whatever means of access, the most suitable safety solution is applied. Should an incident occur, investigators and the court system will refer to best practice protocols to assess whether the system met the needs as determined by risk assessment.

Fall Arrest Solutions

For a person climbing a ladder, there are two systems that will genuinely provide fall protection:

  1. A self-retracting lifeline (SRL) that is fixed to a suitable anchorage point at the top of the structure and connected to the operator’s harness.
  2. A guided fall arrest system (vertical lifeline) that is permanently fixed to the ladder.

Installing an SRL to the top of a ladder typically provides an easy solution, but it is not always practical considering the constant exposure to the elements and need for a rated anchor point. Hence the design of a good fall arrest system must take into account some basics of modern fall protection thinking:

  • The system must be easy to use. If it is not, the level of compliance may be lower than expected.
  • The system must limit the forces that will be applied to the person in the event of a fall to less than 6 kN — the less force the better.
  • The system must not drag on the person as they climb, otherwise it makes climbing all the more difficult, increasing the risk of fatigue.
  • A fall arrest system must be a system of components that enable the line of the system to follow the building or structure that it is connected to.
  • A good system will provide ‘continuous connection’ from the moment the person leaves the ground. This will enable the person to climb to wherever the job is, carry out the task and return, without disconnecting from the system.

There is still an argument for maintaining ladders in combination with an approved fall arrest system, particularly in circumstances where climbing may occur in a highly exposed environment where a cage may provide a level of physical and psychological comfort which can be very important to the climber. However, a cage around a ladder is not going to prevent an unconscious person from falling, whereas a fall arrest system will capture the user within a short distance. A caged ladder must not be mistaken for a ladder with an integral fall arrest system. Only a ladder (caged or otherwise) fitted with a fall arrest system will provide long-term safe access for workers in a way that will minimise the risks involved in climbing.

However, there are some obvious risks in the use of ladder cages as a primary safety method; for example, the potential for head-strike during a fall, loss of consciousness and creation of an extremely difficult rescue scenario for first responders. There are also cases of gruesome entanglements where falling workers tear off body parts during a rapid, uncontrolled descent. These kinds of risks are addressed when vertical lifelines are installed as safety systems. When applying the Fall Protection Hierarchy of Controls, it clearly identifies that a fixed ladder is not the ideal means of access if the work area requires frequent attention. In such circumstances, engineering out the risk by removing the need to access the area by moving essential plant and machinery to a more accessible position or the use of passive or collective systems (eg, stairs and walkways) are more appropriate, if possible.

Ultimately, as workplaces have changed, the understanding of hazards has also increased and subsequently the development of solutions and technology to manage those risks has evolved. Adopting best practice is always the most effective means of maintaining the health and safety of a workforce, and the use of cages does not reflect best practice. OSHA’s shift represents a positive step in reinforcing higher standards of safety and helps identify existing gaps in our current methodologies. Best practice includes the use of methods and techniques that best display thorough and effective safety management protocols, and looking at systems design, user profile, frequency of use and testing and certification as indicators of suitability.


*Scott Barber 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.

WAHA Technical Meetings to resume in 2022

As a voice for industry, our industry tiers of membership reflects leadership in the field. To support our members and help maintain our position as a leading advocate for safety, and agency for change on current and emerging issues, the WAHA have announced that they will resume hosting Technical Meetings in the 2022 year.

The first event, scheduled for the 19th of January 2022. During this WAHA Technical Meeting we will engage with our members, and guests who work within the working at height and confined spaces industries as we continue to work on a number of projects around the need for standardised training.

The second event is scheduled for the 24th of February 2022. During this WAHA Technical Meeting we will engage with our members, and guests on topics surrounding the installation and certification of height safety systems.

WAHA Members can register to attend via EventBrite.

If you or your organisation would like to present at any of our future meetings, please contact us today.

COVID-19 Management Liability

COVID-19’s implications for your management liability

The pandemic raises an extra layer of unpredictability for directors and officers of companies, so this article is a handy checklist about what you need to monitor.

Your business is undoubtedly familiar with the nuts and bolts of your disaster recovery plan due to the current pandemic. It’s a much-changed landscape for risk. So how can you use your insights to better plan for the implications of possible management liabilities in the current climate?

To read more, visit the article by the WAHA Strategic Partner; AB Phillips.

At height risks in construction: a more holistic approach

This Article was written by the WAHA CEO, Scott Barber, for Safety Solutions.

When it comes to deaths and serious injuries resulting from falls from height, construction workers top the list. Despite a focus from regulators, a more holistic approach is needed to improve worker engagement and manage risks through fall protection measures, training and environment-specific solutions.

According to Safe Work Australia data, the workers most at risk of death and serious injury as a result of falls from height are those in the construction industry. The most recent published statistics indicate that there have been 122 fatalities attributed to falls from heights over the past five years, accounting for 13% of all worker fatalities over that period. The figures also indicate that even though serious workers compensation claims resulting from falls from heights declined by 17% between 2009–10 and 2018–19, falls from heights still accounted for 6% of serious claims. If we reference the latest data, the 2019 statistics, they indicate that of the 183 fatalities over that 12-month period, 11% are credited to falls from height and another 11% attributed to falling objects. That’s a total of 42 deaths with an aligned mechanism of injury.

These findings paint a clear picture; despite the focus from regulators and the ever-present risk of working at height, it appears that there is still a lack of engagement with best practice around the management of the key risks despite the devastating effects on workers’ wellbeing and safety. What is also clear is that there is a decisive link between the nature of the environment where these incidents occur and the resultant statistic whereby 22% of the worker fatalities in the construction sector occur from what can be described as ‘at-height’ incidents.

The dangers

The outcomes of falls in the workplace are more likely to be life-threatening when compared to many other incident types. While other common mechanisms of injury, such as manual handling, overexertion, and vehicle or machine accidents are more likely to cause injury to a particular body part, the injuries resultant from falls can easily have wider-spread complications that can affect the whole body, cause significant damage to vital organs and, if not directly resulting in death, have life-altering, long-term consequences.

In other words, working at height may not be the most common incident type, but when incidents do occur, they are much more likely to be fatal compared with other occupational hazards. With such potential consequences, there is a need to address work at height as a broader risk profile. Increasing awareness around the potential for harm and the methods for avoiding these hazards will create more effective engagement and eventually lead to a reduction in events. Knowledge is power, so underestimating and devaluing the high-risk nature of the work environment, and consequently, the level of competency required to operate safely in these spaces, leads directly to a higher incident rate. Ensuring those working at height are educated sufficiently to assess risk appropriately and manage it accordingly is the key to the reduction in these statistics.

Using safety protection correctly

Effective fall protection depends on an informed choice of equipment, the knowledge of how to use it correctly and how to safeguard oneself and others from potential hazards. Workplace safety is, therefore, a two-step process that involves technical support from safety systems and personal protective equipment (PPE) that can shield and protect in dangerous situations and secondly, human support in the shape of comprehensive training, instructions in the form of safe work method statements and expert guidance and advice. Neglecting either of the two will potentially lead to deficiencies in safety systems, resulting in breaches of procedure and a more exposed worksite.

Only professional, competent health and safety specialists can advise on how to design effective solutions and increase compliance while accounting for site-based and case-specific conditions. Safety equipment has become vastly more effective and affordable in recent years, making it easier to choose the right solution for specific tasks. This is a shift from specifying a one-size-fits-all solution and the assumption it will provide protection regardless of task specifics. Utilising a combination of fall arrest systems, edge protection and safety equipment, including PPE and tool lanyards, will lead to a reduction in incidents if used correctly.

Applying the hierarchy of controls informs and frames the most suitable approach to solutions modelling, so engaging with a subject matter expert will help identify the most suitable path forward. But ultimately, correct use is the key; even the newest and most expensive equipment cannot be effective if the worker does not know how to use it properly. While there are many guides on equipment selection, these guides are based on a hypothetical application and assumptions around work environment and do not provide the unique risk-profile and informed criteria that can only be determined by truly competent subject matter experts, be they internal or external consultants. Combined with practical training, not just theory-based working at height courses, operators at height can apply the tools and techniques more efficiently, empowering individuals to make safer choices without needing to compromise due to poor equipment selection.

Therefore, safety training should be a top priority for any company, regardless of the size or the industry. Safety training, performed by professional subject matter experts at regular intervals, will educate crews on how to use the equipment, how to spot a potential hazard, and maintain skillsets and a safety culture in the workplace that will inspire more awareness and interest in working safer. Applying application specifics into training packages allows for the inclusion of the safe use of tools and tool lanyards in height-based work environments. Including these processes into a formal work method helps mitigate the risk of dropped objects highlighted in the statistics.

The future of fall protection

At a state and territory level, SafeWork and WorkSafe are running fall prevention campaigns as part of an initiative to decrease the number of victims of falls from height. This includes the highlighting of dropped objects as a significant contributor to injury and fatality statistics. In the end, however, even with the active campaigning from regulators, the responsibility for creating awareness among a workforce and instituting change when it comes to safety culture and processes lies with the employer. But by empowering those who work at height with the suitable knowledge and skill sets to appreciate the true nature of the risk, an effective multilateral approach can be applied.

The future of safe working at heights will be decided in close cooperation and collaboration with those directly affected by it, the employees. Ensuring appropriate training is provided as a key component of all at height tasks and not relying on ‘tick-the-box’ approaches to safety training ensures operators are prepared and able to continually assess hazards throughout the task, with situational awareness being supported by actual competencies. Companies that look at safety as a task that can be handled on the executive level are taking the wrong approach. An understanding of safety culture will only reach the worker if they are engaged, skilled and involved in the discussion, and only then can all work together to reduce fatalities.