The challenges in fall protection

In this article let’s talk about falls in the construction industry or more specifically, the different types of hazards on a construction site that create a risk for falling and getting injured. When we talk about fall hazards, we can really divide the discussion up into two parts:

  1. Trip and fall hazards
  2. Hazards that pose a risk of falling from heights.

Trip and fall hazards

Many times we don’t talk much about trip and fall hazards on construction sites. I mean after all, don’t we have bigger things to worry about? If someone strings a power cord or two across a walkway or don’t take the time to secure a temporary stair tread that’s loose or warped, or don’t take the time to stop and pick up some debris that’s scattered around. Odds are, no one’s going to trip over it today, right? And even more, if someone does trip, odds are they are probably just going to stumble and they are not going to get seriously injured, right? Yes, these things are probably true. Odds are these things are not going to cause a serious injury today. But another phrase for playing the odds is that you are gambling. And anyone that’s ever gambled before will certainly tell you that no matter what, even when the odds are in your favour, you are eventually going to lose. And that is what you need to keep in mind when you look at something that’s a trip hazard and you find yourself thinking, odds are that it’ll be fine today. The problem when you gamble with safety is that it only takes one time and you don’t know when that one time will happen, whether it’s going to be you or a co-worker, whether it’ll just be a little stumble or if it’s going to be somebody who’s carrying something that falls and twists their back. You really need to think about this concept of playing the odds when you are looking around the job site and remember that your personal well-being and the well-being of your co-workers is not the right thing to be gambling with.

Falls from Heights

Working at heights is always an ever-present hazard on construction sites. We work on multi-story buildings, we have work that needs to be done on the roof of the building that we are constructing, we build bridges that span over roads and rivers. And any time we are working above the ground, there is a risk of falling. The interesting thing here is that when we talk about the risk of falling, a lot of us tend to think about those conditions where we are working way up in the air. In reality, many of the falls that result in serious injuries or even in fatalities actually occur from a relatively short distance off the ground. If we look at some statistics here in Australia, in the four years 2008–2011, one in six fatalities due to fall from height involved a fall from a ladder. Also, half of the overall fatalities in that period involved falls of 3m or less.  So we’re not that high up in the air. What do we do to protect ourselves and our co-workers from these hazards related to working at heights?

You Need a Professional!

Well, really the issue of fall protection needs a specialist on its own. That is why we at Secure Height Systems offer site audits that would give you full insight about the status of your roof safety system because the answers to this issue really tend to be site-specific.

What needs to be done?

You need to recognize when people need to be protected. In other words, just how high off the ground do you need to be before you protect people? There are some standards that specify when you need to take action. Being aware of these standards or the trigger heights for fall protection are a good first step in analysing when you need a fall protection plan. In Australia, we have this set of national established regulations:

  • National Work Health & Safety Regulation 2011
  • Industrial fall-arrest systems and devices Selection, use and maintenance (AS/NZS 1891.1-2007, AS/NZS 1891.2-2001, AS/NZS 1891.3-1997 and AS/NZS 1891.4-2009)
  • Managing the Risk of Falls at Work Places Codes of Practice 2015
  • Fixed platforms, walkways, stairways and ladders – Design, construction and installation (AS/NZS1657:2018)
  • Industrial rope access systems -Part 2: Selection, use and maintenance (AS/NZS4488.2:1997)
  • Manufacturing requirements for single-point anchor device used for harness-based work at height (AS/NZS 5532:2013)

What if there were no regulations?

In some specific things regarding portable ladders there are actually no regulations. Does that mean that there is no hazard when you are doing something like working on a sign or caulking windows from a ladder 6 meters up the side of a building? No of course not. Just because there is no specific regulation that doesn’t make it safe. Remember this is construction. Our sites and conditions change every day and that brings us to the second point on fall protection.

You need a competent person to evaluate the site-specific conditions and make a plan. The bottom line is that conditions vary and many times the hazards presented at one site are not going to be the same as the hazards we encountered on the last site. That’s the reason that the most important component of any fall protection plan is a proper audit by a competent person, a person that not only recognizes those trigger heights we discussed, but someone who understands the work that will need to be done and will incorporate all of those work conditions and requirements into a plan that will protect people when they’re working up there at heights. 

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Height safety compliance starts with the design. Send through your architectural plans and we will advise you with the site specific on-budget solution.

An accredited team of height safety installers with the experience to ensure we over-deliver. Our team of installers is flexible and can be on-site on short notice.

Certification of your height safety system and testing of your anchor points to ensure compliance with relevant Australian standards.

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