No employer or manager wants to have the death of one of their workers on their conscience.

Not only that, but it is a legal requirement to ensure that all risks to a person’s health or safety while at work are properly reviewed and adequately managed. This is known as your “Primary Duty of Care.”

Working at heights is considered a high risk area and therefore must be addressed using the hierarchy of control. Failing to do this can result in enormous fines and even jail time in the event of an incident.

Most falls can be prevented, but there are four main reasons they still occur:

  • Worker error – The person makes a mistake or fails to work safely
  • Poor planning – The job was not planned well
  • Incorrect or no protection systems or equipment
  • Insufficient training

Many people think height safety is complicated, but the truth is it is very simple. The easiest way to prevent an injury or death from a fall is to not fall in the first place. I know that sounds like a pretty obvious statement, but it really is that easy. Here is a four step process which anyone can follow.

Step 1

Identify where the fall hazard is and what is causing it. For example, workers are cleaning a gutter on a roof which is four storeys high. The risk is falling over the edge while working. Another example is workers are installing a sky light in the centre of a roof. The risk now is falling through a hole in the roof. You need to write these risks down. The most common way is to complete a risk assessment form. This will list each job, how it is to be done and identify each hazard.

Step 2

Now that you have a clear picture of what the hazard is, using the hierarchy of control, determine how you can control the risk. Starting at the top, work your way down the hierarchy until you come to the control measure which is practical. Remember that this process must be recorded in writing. If an incident were to occur you would need to justify why you used the level you did, especially if there was a higher level of control that could have been used.

Step 3

Design your safe work method. Every job requires a SWMS (Safe Work Method Statement). Many people see a SWMS as just another example of red tape and pointless paperwork. This could not be further from the truth. A well thought out and written SWMS will give the workers a clear understanding on how to complete the job safely. For a height safety system to perform properly, the workers must clearly understand how to implement the procedures correctly or it will most likely end in disaster.

Step 4

Training and supervision. The best plan when executed poorly is worthless. Prior to using the system and starting work, it is imperative that all workers have had the necessary training and experience to use the system safely. Equally important is having a supervisor who has a clear understanding of how to manage and direct the work so that everyone is safe. A work site without a supervisor is like a ship without a captain.

Using this four-step process, you will be able to identify all of the hazards, design a safe system of work and implement the plan safely and efficiently. If you are not experienced in working at heights, you should consult with an expert. There are many companies that can complete this entire process for you. Just remember to ask the right questions to ensure that the company you choose has the right qualifications and experience.

Legal duties

Most states in Australia are governed by the Work Health and Safety Act 2011. The Act gives a Primary Duty of Care to a PCBU (Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking) to ensure the health, safety and welfare of workers and others. This duty can be held by more than one person at the same time. It also states that if you have a Primary Duty of Care under that Act that you cannot transfer that duty to anyone else.