With workplace risk profiles constantly changing and the training & equipment maintenance requirements increasing each year, many organisations go into reactive mode with regards to managing their working at heights systems and PPE.
As a result, we see organisations adopting a “tick the box” risk management system just to meet the minimum compliance requirements.
We need to look to more effective and proactive ways to manage the changing risks of our workplaces and ensure safety protocols meet these needs. When we do this, we discover ways to remove the layers of complexity from equipment application and selection, make it more simple to train our teams and maintain their skills, ensure what we specify is fit for purpose and all while comply with any Regulatory requirements we face.
The High Cost of Worker Non-Compliance
When a decision is made to work at height without applying the basics of safe work practice, regardless if the task will take just a few minutes or is occurring at a low height, the risks, and potential costs, can be enormous.
Fall-related injuries and deaths can be devastating on a physical, emotional, and financial level for the worker, the worker’s family, and the employer. In addition to the potential loss of life or serious life-altering injuries, a fall can easily cripple or bankrupt a business.
What do you need to do?
Applying the Hierarchy of Controls is the first step in addressing the risk:
- Avoid work at heights, where possible.
- When it is necessary to work at heights, ensure that workers are not exposed to unnecessary risks.
- Where it is not possible to eliminate fall risk, use a suitable fall protection system to minimize consequences of a fall.
- Choose PPE and access methods that allow workers to perform their tasks with minimal interference.
How do you decide what equipment to use?
The nature of the work being carried out needs to be the starting point as not all harness and connection methods will be suitable for all tasks. As part of the risk profiling, the potential for passive protection measures needs to be addressed before prioritising personal protection (PPE) measures.
When addressing equipment selection criteria look at all the risks, not just those associated with the ‘use’ phase. Duration and frequency of use will help determine whether permanent solutions are required, or if the application of a PPE based access method is more suitable.
What is passive protection?
Passive protection is a system design which can protect more than one person and, once properly installed or erected, requires minimal actions by the user to make sure it will perform. Examples include hand rails, scaffolds and Elevated Work Platforms (EWPs) which use guard rails to reduce the risk of a fall.
What is personal protection?
Personal protection is equipment which provides protection to the user/wearer only and requires actions by the individual, including correct fitting and adjusting, for it to perform appropriately. Examples include fall arrest equipment including harnesses, lanyards, Personal Fall Limiters (PFLs) and Self Retracting Life Lines (SRLs) which minimise the consequences of a fall.
This also includes fixed/engineered systems like Horizontal Life Lines and Vertical Life Lines (ladder systems) to provide permanent connection means in collaboration with appropriate PPE.
This method is termed “Collective Protection” as it involves multiple elements from the Hierarchy of Controls.
Please note, the use of personal protection requires appropriate training in working at height, and consideration for skills maintenance should be accommodated in any ongoing training matrix.
What else do you need to do?
Ensure all personnel who select, assemble, use and supervise the use of the equipment have been suitably trained and have access to all the relevant information relating to their safe use. This includes understanding equipment cross-compatibility and the inspection and maintenance requirements as per the manufacturer’s guidelines and all relevant Standards.
If you have not determined the available clearance below the working surface and calculated your total fall clearance properly, then a fall leading to potential serious or fatal injuries may still occur regardless of the fall arrest system being used.
Safe fall clearance is required to ensure that any fall from a working platform will be arrested before a worker can impact the ground or any other obstruction such as building extrusions, machinery or pipework.
Scott Barber is Chief Executive Officer of the Working at Height Association of Australia