Following a number of ‘near miss accidents’ in recent years, Workplace Health and Safety Officers from the Gold Coast region have spearheaded the creation of the Height Safety industry Working Group.

The group, which convened for the first time in March, includes stakeholders from industry sectors including rope access, high rise window cleaning, height safety system installation and height safety equipment manufacturing.

The officers identified window cleaning companies being at the greatest risk. These companies abseil down the building while attached to anchor point systems on the roof.

In its meeting, the group identified the need to raise awareness of best practice principles in three main areas:

  • Correct design, installation and certification of height safety systems;
  • Raising the standard of safety of rope access companies; and
  • Understanding of the Work Health & Safety Act 2011 by Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBUs).

Design, Installation and Certification

No amount of training or safe procedures can save a worker from a poorly designed and installed system. An adequate design will address four separate points:

  1. Building layout: What sections of the building will need to be accessed?
  2. Building Structure: Is the building structure capable of sustaining the potential force of a fall?
  3. Anchor Design: The position, type and number of anchors that will be required?
  4. Rescue: In the event of an incident, does the design allow for a safe rescue?

Installation is equally important. In order to protect yourself as a PCBU, it is important to ensure the installation company holds a QBCC license to install height safety systems, is an authorised installer for the manufacturer of the system in question, has adequate levels of experience in installing height safety systems and holds the required insurance.

It is also important to clarify what certification and documents you will receive once the system is installed.

Raising Standards

Another goal of the working group is to raise the level of professionalism and safety within the rope access industry. Through better general education and awareness, they expect consumers will demand a higher standard of safety from rope access companies, and that rather simply awarding work according to the lowest quote, PCBUs will increasingly question areas such as qualifications, competency and experience. The follow on effect will be a more professional and safety conscious industry.

Understanding the Work Health & Safety Act 2011

With its 351 pages of legal jargon, it is not difficult to see why many people are still in the dark when it comes to understanding the Work Health & Safety Act 2011 and their duties and obligations. It is a legal requirement that a PCBU has a duty to ‘eliminate risks to health and safety’ and ‘if it is not practicable to eliminate risks…to minimise those risks.’

Yet many building owners, corporate bodies and building managers do not fully understand this non-transferable obligation. Heavy penalties apply for failing to comply with the legislation, including large fines and potential jail sentences. The Act goes further to state that this duty cannot be transferred to another person and that more than one person can hold the same duty at the same time (part 2, division 1, subdivision 1, section 14 & 16.)

How do you ensure compliance?

So as a PCBU, how do you ensure you are getting the right advice and complying with your duty? You could read all 351 pages of the Work Health & Safety Act 2011 as well as the 735 pages of the Work Health & Safety Regulation 2011. Not to mention the Standards AS1891.4 and AS4488, or you could just follow these three simple rules:

  • Properly research which companies you will choose to obtain a quote from.
  • Ask the experience and compliance questions at the start of this article.
  • Choose a company which is experienced, compliant, licenced and authorised, and is also willing to help educate you about your duties and obligations.

Hopefully, the new working group will help drive industry change and raise standards.

If it helps to prompt PCBUs to ask not only if they are complying with their obligations under the Act but also whether or not they have done everything possible to help keep people safe, it will succeed in this goal.