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A report published by Safe Work Australia, titled ‘Work-Related Injuries and Fatalities Involving a Fall from a Height’, reveals that Australians working at an elevated level are in danger.

Between July 1 2003 and June 30 2011, a startling 232 employees died after a fall from a height – a number that accounts for 11 per cent of all workforce deaths over this period.

Over one-third (37 per cent) of these fall-related deaths occurred in the construction sector, which makes the industry’s fatality rate four times higher than Australia’s overall fatality rate during this eight-year period.

In addition to this, 7,730 people were injured by a fall from a height in 2010-11 alone. That’s approximately 21 every day!

This type of injury can mean anything from one to six weeks off work – a long time for something that could have been easily avoided in the first place.

These statistics demonstrate the necessity of having appropriate OHS training, learning to manage risks and understanding appropriate control measures before undertaking jobs in the construction sector.

So, how do you keep safe when working at heights? Here are five ways to help you make it home in one piece!

1) Get trained up

It’s compulsory for those working in the construction industry to undergo ‘Work Safely at Heights’ training. This is one of the most important OHS training courses you will ever take, and it could ultimately save your life.

‘RIIWHS204E Work Safely at Heights’ is a 1-day nationally recognised course that will equip you with the skills and knowledge to perform the following tasks:

– Select, use and maintain the appropriate safety equipment
– Install and understand how to operate fall arrest systems
– Develop a risk management plan
– Choose a suitable anchorage point

In addition to this, AlertForce offers a online ‘Working at Heights’ awareness course that will give you a detailed overview of the dangers associated with performing tasks at an elevated level.

You may work on this course at your own pace, but it should take approximately 20 minutes to complete.

It covers everything from the main causes of falls and how to manage them, tips for working on scaffolding and ladders (see below) and will go through a number of case studies, so you can get to grips with the real-life application of the safety tips you learn.

With this knowledge, you will be an asset to both your employer and your co-workers.

2) Learn to manage risks

When on construction sites, it’s important that you wear the necessary safety equipment at all times. You should also eliminate or, if this isn’t possible, reduce all health and safety risks in the area before you start work.

The best way to ensure you’ve got all your bases covered is by organising a comprehensive risk management strategy. This is the key to keeping safe in most environments and is often a requirement in workplaces across the country.

In general, a risk management strategy will contain the following steps:

– Locate any hazards in the workplace. Think about who will be onsite, where they will be working from (e.g. scaffolding or ladders), and how they might be injured.
– Assess the risk such hazards pose. Determine the likelihood of someone being injured by the hazards you’ve identified.
– Remove or control the hazards. Discuss what measures could be put in place to prevent this from happening and implement them.

You need to review your business’s risk management strategy on a regular basis, so that it’s always suitable for your current environment. You should also have inspection and maintenance processes in place, to make sure your work systems and equipment are up to standard.

3) Understand the control measures to prevent falls

According to WorkCover, there are three control measures that must be put in place whenever people are working at an elevated level. These are:

– A stable and securely fenced work platform (e.g. scaffolding) that is properly maintained. If a worker could fall more than four metres from such a work platform, OHS Regulation states that it and any support structures must be looked at by a “competent person” before it’s used, following repairs, and at least once every 30 days.

– Secure, physical barriers, such as perimeter screens, fencing and handrails to prevent someone from falling. These need to be set up before any work commences on site and should be between 900mm and 1100mm above the work platform.

– Other physical restraints (e.g. fall arrest systems) that will catch someone if they fall from a height exceeding two metres. This can include harness and lanyards, which should always be used in the way the manufacturer intended.

The control measures listed above are hierarchical. In other words,  your employer is first and foremost obliged to supply you with “a stable and securely fenced work platform”, and only introduce the subsequent control measures if complying with this is “not reasonably practical”.

You must be provided with a safe method of moving between different levels when working at heights.

4) On scaffolding …

All scaffolding is required to be erected on a firm, level surface.

When working on scaffolding or a hoist, you should never use handrails to gain extra height – you need to make sure both of your feet are planted firmly on the deck at all times. These handrails should not be used to support heavy equipment or loads, either, according to SafeWork SA.

The deck must always be clear of any obstructions or debris that could pose a safety hazard.
You should never adjust scaffolding without the consent of your main contractor, and make sure no one is on the platform when it’s being adjusted.

Only qualified scaffolders are permitted to remove or replace any sections of scaffolding. So, if you come across scaffolding that appears to be incomplete or damaged in some way, don’t attempt to use it or fix it yourself. Inform your main contractor or make sure you stand clear.

5) On ladders …

You should only use the correct ladder for the task at hand, and make sure it’s in good condition. It must be set up on a firm, level surface at a ratio of 4:1.

It must be properly secured to prevent displacement and, ideally, a worker should hold the ladder at its base while someone is using it.

When working on ladders, you must always have two hands free to climb safely – if you can’t carry equipment in your tool belt, it must be lifted to you independently. You should also face the ladder at all times when ascending or descending.

You are required to maintain three points of contact at all times when working, and you should never place your feet above 900mm from the ladder’s top.

It should also be noted that many unnecessary falls occur as a result of non-ladder use, too – that is, when people stand on desks or crates to gain extra height instead of a properly set-up and maintained ladder.

So, next time you’re working at heights, make sure you keep these five tips in mind – and keep safe!

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