What are the regulations for working at heights?

OHS and WHS laws and regulations continue to develop, assisting , to improve the health and safety of workers in a wide variety of industries throughout Australia.

Unfortunately, employers and employees often find it difficult to keep up with the latest regulations and industry requirements. Failure to comply may result in penalties, fines, reputational damage and the loss of business.

The following information covers the working at height definition and Work Health and Safety Regulations for managing the risk of falling.

What Are the Regulations for Working at Heights?

According to the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 (Cth), employers need to provide specific control measures when there is a risk of a fall of at least two or three metres, depending on the work setting.

To understand how to implement these control measures, workers need to complete the RIIWHS204D Work Safely at Heights program. If the work setting is a construction site, employees also requirement additional training requirements, such as the need to obtain a ‘Construction Industry White Card’ through general risk in construction induction training.

The RIIWHS204D course is not a requirement, however it outlines the steps required to comply with the WHS Regulations. Under WHS laws, employers have a responsibility to reduce or minimise health and safety risks at the workplace.

As part of these responsibilities, employers need to ensure that workers have a safe way to exit the workplace. If working at heights above three metres in housing construction or two metres in any other construction setting, employers also need to provide a fall arrest and restraint system.

Does your workplace meet these working at height regulations? When you have concerns about the safety conditions of your workplace, always speak to your elected health and safety representative (‘HSR’). If your work site does not have an HSR, discuss your concerns with an immediate supervisor.

Who Is Permitted to Work at Heights?

When working in an area that involves the risk of falling, you may need a working at heights ticket. The employer may also need to complete a safe work method statement and procedure that outlines specific risks that may be encountered whilst working at a height, and the steps required to perform the task safely.

When is a working at heights ticket required? The working at height legislation includes the need to complete training when working on structures that include risk of a fall of more than two metres. When working housing construction, the minimum height is three metres.

How Can You Minimise the Risk of Falls?

To minimise the risk of falls, employees should complete the RIIWHS204D training course. This program outlines the skills and knowledge required to reduce the hazards of working from height. It also follows the Australian Safety and Compensation Council (‘ASCC’) fall from height code of practice, developed with Safe Work Australia, which sets the following priorities:

  • Reduce the severity of workplace dangers;
  • Improve Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) management;
  • Prevent work-related diseases and injuries;
  • Eliminate risks during the design stage; and
  • Increase government influence over worker health and safety.

The code of practice does not cover the specific steps for reducing risks. It only provides guidance for complying and clarifying WHS regulations.

What Is Working at Heights Training?

RIIWHS204D Work Safely at Heights is the nationally recognised course that you need to complete before working at heights of two metres or higher. However, changes to the OHS Code of Practice for Managing the Risk of Falls at Workplaces may eliminate this requirement.

Instead of requiring training for working at heights of over two metres, employees may need to implement a working at heights permit system before working from any heights. This change is designed to reduce the risk of injuries of falls from low-level platforms, ladders, and other structures that do not meet the two-metre requirement.

The training is offered face to face through registered training organisations. The training program covers the working at heights requirements to manage the risk of falling. This includes the use of the hierarchy of control measures:

  • Elimination;
  • Substitution;
  • Engineering controls;
  • Administrative controls; and
  • Personal protective equipment (‘PPE’).

Each control measure offers a different level of protection and risk reduction. Elimination is the most effective control measure while the use of PPE offers the least protection.

Eliminating the risk may involve performing the task on the ground or on a solid construction surface. When this is not an option, employees should find proactive ways to reduce the risk.

Substitution is the second control measure. This typically involves replacing the means of access with a safer option, such as installing a permanent ladder instead of using a temporary one. The use of elevated work platforms may also provide a safer alternative.

Engineering controls assist to identify hazards, reducing the risk of accidental exposure to the hazard. Common engineering controls include safety barriers, signs, and notices that warn people of the dangers.

Administrative controls include steps taken by administrators or supervisors to limit worker exposure to the dangers. For example, a supervisor may choose to rotate workers to limit the amount of exposure to the hazard.

The use of safety equipment is the final control measure and the least effective as it provides protection after the hazard occurs. Fall prevention equipment and other PPE shield workers against injuries if they happen to fall. PPE protects workers when the previous control measures fail, acting as a last resort.

After completing this training, attendees receive a statement of attainment certificate. The statement is proof that you have completed this unit of competency, allowing an employee to work from heights at most work sites. Keep in mind that you may still need to obtain your white card when working on a construction site.

The statement of attainment acts as evidence that you’re trained to work safely at heights. It does not have an expiry date but best practice within the industry recommends a refresher course every two years. The refresher course is available online, providing a convenient option for maintaining this unit of competency and an ability to work at heights.

Conclusion

WHS Regulations require employers to provide reasonably safe work environments. This often includes the need for specialised training to manage hazards and dangers.

When job tasks involve working at heights, employers should provide workers with the proper training to assess the hazards. Use the RIIWHS204D training program to further reducee the risk of injury when working at a height of two metres or higher.

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