An injury or death of a worker at height is every foreman’s worst nightmare, and it’s an area where little has changed since 2003, despite strict laws and penalties for failing to comply with safety regulations. According to a post in 2013 on the Workplace Access and Safety website, 232 people died after falling from height from 2003 to 2011. One fifth of these were on construction sites.
As well as tragic loss of life, there were even more people injured in falls from roofs. Badly injured. Requiring months and sometimes years to recover, if they could recover fully at all. In Australia, an average of twenty-one people a day lodge a claim for a falls related injury and require time off work.
Put simply, safety when working at heights applies to everyone, on commercial construction sites, small home renovations and weekend maintenance.
While we can’t list out all the rules out here, you can find a heap of information in the AS/NZS 1576 on scaffolding and AS/NZS 1891 Industrial fall arrest systems and devices. There’s also a very handy Workcover report all about safe work on roofs. This report also includes a checklist of questions to ask when securing a site for working at heights.
So if you have to work at heights, what’s the safest way to do it, in a nutshell?
If work needs to be done on a roof, the rules change depending on the pitch of the roof. This is because the steeper the pitch the faster someone will fall. So scaffolding and fall arrest systems need to account for this.
When erected according to the rules, by certified installers, scaffolding provides a barrier to falling by creating a stable structure with protective guardrails and platforms around the workspace. If it’s feasible for you to install scaffolding for your job, then do it, because it provides the best protection from falls.
If scaffolding isn’t practical, or the roof pitch is steeper than 26 degrees you’ll need to consider fall arrest systems either on their own or in conjunction with scaffolding, guardrails or elevating work platforms. The first aim of fall arrest systems is to prevent a worker finding themselves at risk of falling in the first place. The second is to limit the distance of a fall to 2 metres.
Fall arrest systems can be made up of roof anchor points, harnesses, lanyards, inertia reels and static lines.
Anchor points are the foundation of a safe system for working at heights
To be successful, the point at which the safety device is anchored to the roof is critical. Installers must be certified to do so and the installation must then be checked by another qualified person. Regular checks must be made of the anchor point. Sometimes more than one anchor point is needed, if the space is large.
The positioning of the anchor point is crucial. If it’s for a horizontal lifeline (usually to stop a worker getting near the edge of a roof or a weak point) it must be secured above the harness connection points to keep the potential fall at 2 metres or less. If it’s a static line, the anchor point must be directly above the point at which the person is working to avoid slack.
Anchorage points and the structures to which they are connected should be selected to withstand maximum likely force. This is about 1500kg (a family car) for one person. It may be necessary to install more than one anchor point or a mobile anchorage to account for the movement of the worker around the roof.
And of course, any fall arrest equipment that’s worn or damaged must be discarded immediately.
Using the right systems and standard worthy preparations will reduce the risks of workplace falls. But it’s not just construction firms and contractors who need to follows these rules. The most alarming revelation from the Workplace Access and Safety report was that many falls were from people doing simple maintenance or painting. And 37 falling deaths were from ladders. Safety when working at heights applies to everyone.
Your life depends upon being prepared when you’re working at heights. Start your search for fall arrest systems at ANKAme.