What You Need to Know About Working at Heights
Whether it’s roofing work or high-rise window washing, working at heights is a high-risk activity. It’s a major cause of workplace injuries and deaths and therefore there are a number of guidelines and recommendations that workers and employers need to adhere to to ensure workplace safety. These include factors like proper training and the use of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), taking necessary safety precautions and ensuring that the right safety equipment is installed onsite.
We’re going to go through what constitutes working at heights, how to identify hazards, what training is required and how to minimise the risks.
What is working at heights?
Working from heights is an integral part of work for most building and construction industry workers.
According to SafeWork NSW, most serious workplace injuries resulting from working at heights are due to falls from roofs, ladders or scaffolds. These usually involve falls from heights between 2 and 4 metres.
Accordingly, the construction industry considers any work carried out with a risk of falling more than 2 metres to be high-risk construction work. Any work that falls into this designation requires a Safe Work Method Statement to be prepared. This includes a risk assessment and a plan for eliminating or minimising the risk of falls.
Outside of the construction industry, reasonable steps must be taken to ensure safety when working from heights, including when working below 2 metres. Other industries and trades that commonly work from heights include:
- Industrial rope access systems
- Tree lopping
- Building & general trades
- Loading/unloading trucks & shipping containers
- Working on roofs
- Air conditioning repair and maintenance
- Commercial cleaning
Whatever the industry, whatever the work, it’s vital that all practical steps are taken to identify hazards, assess the risks and determine the most appropriate controls which should be applied to provide a safe working environment.
The first step in avoiding a hazard is being aware of its existence. Identifying potential hazards around the workplace is essential for preventing fall-related injuries. Hazard assessment and identification involves finding situations, locations and equipment that present potential risks. The following factors are the most common causes of fall hazards:
- Physical work environment
- Equipment, materials and substances used
- Work tasks & how they are performed
- Work design and management
In terms of physical work environment, these are some examples of clear fall hazards:
- Open edges of floors or roof
- Holes, penetrations and voids
- Excavations, trenches, shafts, lift wells
- Unstable structures (e.g. incomplete scaffolding)
- Fragile, brittle surfaces (e.g. cement sheet roofs, fibreglass roofs, skylight)
- Unprotected formwork decks
- Unsecured ladders
When working around these kinds of hazards, it’s important to provide adequate protection and safe work systems to eliminate or minimise the risks associated with working at height. These include:
- Fall prevention devices (e.g. barriers, scaffolding, caged ladders)
- Work positioning systems (e.g. rope access systems, roof anchor points)
- Fall arrest system (e.g. safety net or catch platform)
Where possible, working from ground or on a solid construction platform or surface is the best way to avoid falls from height.
Information and Training
Appropriate training is essential for protecting workers from falls from heights. A Work Safely from Heights training course will give participants the skills and knowledge required to work safely on construction sites where the work activity involves working above 2 metres from ground level and where fall protection measures are required.
Proper training, instruction and information should provide workers with all necessary information to work safely including:
- Proper use, storage and maintenance of PPE
- Understanding the hazards and risks associated with working from heights
- Following health and safety procedures
- Understanding the reasons fall protection measures have been put in place and how to use them properly.
Workers must be trained and have the appropriate skills to carry out a particular task safely and all training should be carried out by a competent and qualified person.
Even with appropriate training, PPE and hazards assessments, it’s important to promote safety awareness on the worksite, especially when working at heights. It’s easy to lose awareness of your surroundings when you get into your work, and this can lead to accidents.
Maintaining safety awareness, including appropriate supervision, is vital to keeping workers safe.
When working from heights, vigilance is required to ensure that no injuries occur. You should ensure that all workers are appropriately trained, that the worksite is properly protected and that all PPE is available, properly used and maintained in good working order.