Working at heights is the leading cause of death in workplaces in Australia. Working at heights is a high-risk job and one of the leading causes of death and serious injury in workplaces across Australia.

According to statistics from SafeWork Australia, between 1 January 2003 and 31 December 2015:

  • 359 workers were killed following a fall from a height—11% of all workers killed over this period.
  • Half of these falls involved falling three metres or less.
  • The greatest number of fatalities involved falling from roofs (59), ladders (54), vehicles (27) and horses (33).
  • Workers aged 45 years and over made up 65% of those who died.
  • The construction industry accounted for 37% of falls-related fatalities.

So if you work from heights how do you minimise the risk of serious injury or death?

It’s all about training courses and equipment. When it comes to working from heights the only thing that will save your life is learning the correct ways to ensure your safe alongside using the correct equipment. This includes equipment that can be used by numerous workers on site. For example installing fall prevention systems is crucial at the design and planning stage and including roof safety mesh, guard railings, barriers, scaffolding or elevating work platforms. Work procedures should be developed on how to correctly install, use and maintain the system.

In every state and territory across Australia the relevant SafeWork organisations have legislation to ensure the correct procedures are in place to prevent a tragedy on site.

SafeWork NSW has recently introduced on the spot fines for:

  • employers not protecting their workers from the risk of falling from heights
  • workers who undertake work requiring a licence when they don’t hold that licence, or employers who allow their workers to do so. This includes high-risk work licences, asbestos class A, B and asbestos assessor licences, demolition licences and construction induction cards.

These new on the spot fines are issued by inspectors and if the risk to workers is imminent or serious, or if the workplace is considered to be a repeat offender. SafeWork NSW says these fines are aimed at reducing the number of worker fatalities and serious injuries, and protecting workers and the community from these high-risk activities.

Industry has also raised concerns that some businesses can gain a commercial advantage by cutting corners on worker safety. Fining individuals or employers who ignore their work health and safety obligations say SafeWork NSW will assist in creating a level playing field for those who take safety seriously, while also saving lives.

This year alone, SafeWork NSW has attended 234 incidents involving falls from heights, with over half of those incidents occurring in the construction industry. The snapshot for falls for those working in the construction sector are alarming and construction workers are at the greatest risk.

  • 28%of fatalities in Australia were caused by a fall from a height in 2015.
  • 30%of serious claims for falls from a height were caused by ladders
  • 48%of fatalities in the construction industry were from falls from a height of less than 4 metres.

There have been eight workers killed in NSW in 2017 so far, and many more receiving catastrophic injuries as a result of a fall from heights.

So what can you can do to keep you and your crew safe on site? SafeWork NSW has published the following guide, which they say will not only prevent accidents but save lives.

  • Ensure work involving the risk of a fall is carried out on a suitable working platform and wherever possible undertake the work from the ground or underneath the work area rather than from above.
  • Ensure adequate edge protection is in place such as scaffolding or guardrails.
  • Ensure a competent person checks all scaffolds and that a handover certificate is provided prior to use.
  • Ensure all open penetrations are securely covered or protected by physical barriers.
  • Provide your workers with a safe means of access and egress to all relevant areas of the worksite.
  • Only use fall prevention and fall arrest systems where other higher order controls are not reasonably practicable.
  • Establish and test emergency procedures in relation to the use of a fall arrest system.
  • Ladders should only be used for access and egress or for short-term work where other higher levels of control such as working platforms or scaffold are not reasonably practical.
  • When using ladders, ensure you have three points of contact at all times and never over reach. Consider using a platform ladder.
  • Provide your workers with the relevant equipment, information, training and instruction to work safely at heights.

AlertForce is a recognised RTO and offers working from heights courses in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth. Check our website for other states and territories. For more information on working from heights courses visit https://alertforce.com.au/ohs-training-courses/working-at-heights/