Falling from any height is a common cause of injury in construction – and almost every trade is exposed to the risk. As an employer, you have a responsibility to manage the risk of any fall that is likely to cause injury to your workers.

Scaffolding, roofing and erecting frames and trusses are just some of the tasks that can result in falling from height. Other less obvious scenarios include a bricklayer building a wall next to a partially built swimming pool or a tiler laying tiles on a third floor balcony.

Planning and risk assessment

You should conduct a risk assessment at the planning stage of the project to determine the most appropriate risk management controls for working at heights.

If there is a risk of falling two or more metres, you must prepare a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS).

If work can’t be performed on the ground or from a solid foundation, you must provide adequate protection to minimise risk by using:

  • Fall prevention devices, such as edge protection
  • Work positioning systems, such as elevating work platforms – elevating work platforms (EWP) and scaffolding
  • Fall arrest systems, where scaffolding acts as a catch platform.

Control measures

Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 sets out specific control measures to use when there is a risk of falling:

  • Three metres in housing construction work
  • Two metres in other construction work (commercial, civil, industrial).

Some work may have obvious controls such as:

  • Installing edge protection on a roof perimiter if installing roof tiles
  • Using scaffolding to install external cladding on a multi-storey building.

Hierarchy of Controls

Use the following Hierarchy of Controls to determine what level of control you need to manage the risks associated with working at height,

  • Elimination – Does the work actually needs to be performed at height? Could the roof be constructed at ground level and craned into position?
  • Substitution – Swap out a ladder for a better work platform, such as a mobile scaffold
  • Engineering controls – Use edge protection, temporary or permanent anchors, and scissor lifts
  • Administrative controls – Prepare Safe Work Method Statements, conduct pre-start risk assessments, and provide training on how to work safely at height
  • Personal protective equipment – Use fall restraint systems including full body harnesses, lanyards and static lines.

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