Falling from heights is one of the leading causes of workplace injuries and death, according to Safe Work Australia. Approximately 11 per cent of all work-related fatalities are caused by a fall from height.

Addressing this troubling figure requires more than an investment in training and equipment, the Working at Heights Association (WAHA) reveals. While ensuring employees are provided with comprehensive working at heights training and personal protective equipment is crucial, a recent WAHA survey found that unsafe tools and fall-arrest system failures may be influence a number of accidents and injuries.

"Based on the results of a survey of the WAHA Installer Group, fall-prevention equipment cannot be relied on," WAHA Installer Group Committee Member Carl Sachs explained to the National Safety Council of Australia (NSCA).

The survey found that 94 per cent of fixed ladders and 31 per cent of anchor points in work sites across Australia were potentially fatal due to incorrect installation. 

Mr Sachs believes failure to install fall-prevention equipment correctly stems from the lack of mandatory training and licensing of installers working in many industries.

"Anyone with a credit card and a cordless drill can install this equipment and work at heights," he revealed, "and there are manufacturers who don't impose any training requirements on their clients at all."

A call for industry standards

The WAHA and other industry stakeholders have long been campaigning for nation-wide standards to be introduced regarding the installation of fall-prevention systems. In particular, the strongest voices convened in NSW for a falls crisis summit at the Sydney Safety Conference in September last year.

Several issues were put to the vote at this event, receiving unanimous support. These votes included the belief that compliance with the Australian Standards should be compulsory, formal training for installers be mandatory and regulators inspect fall-prevention equipment.

"We don't need more WHS laws," Mr Sachs explained. "We need a framework which complements the layers of legislation and actually enforces it. Relying on people doing the right thing is not a suitable control for equipment that workers' lives depend on."

Currently, no specific mandatory accreditation exists for the installers of fall-arrest systems. Furthermore, installers are not required to access training and can effectively install and certify their own work. This often leads to installations being completed under little scrutiny.

The NSCA believes that intense regulation is not necessarily the key to improving quality. Instead, industry leaders need to address the potential conflict of interest introduced by having the installer certify their own work.

"If you have that independence in terms of the certification … [it] gives you greater confidence that the person who is certifying the installation of fixed fall-prevention equipment is making the appropriate enquiry and tests that the  platform has been appropriately installed," occupational health and safety (OHS) expert Michael Tooma expressed.

Mr Tooma believes that even providing a secondary trained individual within the installers own company may be enough to boost safety standards.

"As long as they are a competent person, have the correct expertise and have the independence to be able to certify, this would be an appropriate step forward and improvement to the existing approach – and that in itself would improve the quality of fall-prevention equipment out here," he said.

It is therefore important to ensure that if your worksite requires fall-prevention equipment installation, and you choose to perform this duty in-house, that you provide working at heights training to multiple employees. This will enable your staff to certify and regulate the work of their colleagues, in addition to increasing their ability to recognise potential issues with their own systems.

Boosting the safety of the installer

As well as increasing the safety of those employees destined to use the completed fall-arrest systems, it is also vital to ensure you have procedures in place to protect the health and safety of the installer.

"Apart from other workers relying on their installations, the installers themselves are exposed to incredible risk of falls when they install the equipment," Mr Sachs explained.

"Anyone can go and install equipment on the edge of a 30-metre skyscraper. With a framework of training and licensing, there is no reason why an installer shouldn't certify their height safety installation the same way a licensed electrician certifies their own work."

Improving the safety of the individual installing fall-prevention systems can include using temporary equipment, such as elevated platforms, harnesses and fall-arrest lines. However, similar to the more permanent installations, incorrect set-up and use of these items can significantly reduce their effectiveness.

Accessing working at heights training is an important step in boosting OHS outcomes for those undertaking employment above the ground. This is because a nationally certified course helps increase knowledge and ability related to these systems.

In particular, a comprehensive working at heights learning program should include training in the identification, installation, maintenance and use of safety systems and equipment. This enables an individual who has undergone this training to increase their awareness of potential hazards, such as incorrect installation, degraded mechanisms and other risks.

Once training has been completed, employees are also able to make informed decisions regarding the specific type of equipment that would be best for the situation at hand. This means there will be a reduced risk of workers using the wrong system and being involved in a preventable accident.

Monitoring equipment is also crucial as this ensures that any wear or degradation of systems is identified and addressed as soon as possible, minimising the risk of equipment failures.

For more information on working at heights training to help improve safety on your elevated work site, contact the AlertForce team today.