Managing the risk of working at heights
More than 180 people attended Workplace Health and Safety Queensland's (WHSQ's) recent briefing session about obligations under, and WHSQ's approach to enforcing the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (PDF, 1.42 MB) and the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 (PDF, 2.53 MB) (the Regulation). The briefing focused on WHSQ's Legislative guide - Working at heights in construction (PDF, 138 kB).
The key points discussed were:
- a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) must manage risks to health and safety associated with falls from one level to another that are reasonably likely to cause an injury (Part 4.4, section 78 of the Regulation)
- construction work duty holders must also comply with Part 6.3, division 4 of the Regulation, when determining how to manage risks associated with falls
- if a person can fall more than two metres, a safe work method statement (SWMS) must be prepared, detailing the hazards, controls, and methods of review and monitoring
- if the SWMS states that the only control measures will be administrative controls or the provision of personal protective equipment, it must describe all control measures that have been considered in determining the control measures to implement as well as address the general fall protection requirements.
The following scenarios highlight the importance of working at heights safety measures and the role of inspectors in enforcing compliance with them.
An inspector observes workers on a housing construction site carrying out re-roofing work at a height of less than three metres. To control the risk, the PCBU has implemented a travel restraint system and has ensured workers are trained to work at heights. The inspector has determined that this method has adequately controlled the risk of a fall. However, the safe work method statement (SWMS) for the work states that higher order controls, including temporary edge protection, will be used.
An inspector could issue an improvement notice to the PCBU under r300(1) of the Regulation for failing to comply with the SWMS. A prohibition notice could not be issued in this scenario as the workers are using a travel restraint system and therefore not exposed to an immediate or imminent serious risk.
An inspector observes workers on a housing construction site carrying out small works (installation of a whirly bird). The workers are at a height that is less than three metres. The SWMS states that administrative controls (training) will be used to manage the risk to workers and work is being carried out in accordance with the SWMS.
An inspector could issue a prohibition notice to stop the work at heights if the inspector has formed a reasonable belief that workers are exposed to an uncontrolled immediate or imminent serious risk. This is the same outcome that would have been expected under the old Workplace Health and Safety Regulation 2008.
If the SWMS did not address the requirements of r299(4) of the Regulation to describe all control measures considered in determining which control measures to implement where only administrative controls and PPE are to be used, the inspector could also issue an improvement notice under r299(1) of the Regulation.
An inspector observes workers on a domestic housing construction site carrying out re-roofing work at a height of less than three metres. Workers are using a work positioning system to control the risk of a fall (e.g. a secured lanyard and harness), which is in accordance with the SWMS for the work.
If the PCBU is able to provide the inspector with their determination (note: the WHS Act does not require this to be in writing) as to why the use of fall prevention was not reasonably practicable, then the inspector can not issue an enforcement notice. In this scenario there is no requirement for the determination to be documented.
If the PCBU is unable to provide any determination as to why the use of fall prevention was not reasonably practicable, then the inspector should discuss the relevant regulations, codes of practice and availability of other reasonably practicable options to control the risks associated with falls.
An inspector will only consider the use of an improvement notice if they form a reasonable belief that the PCBU is likely to continue or repeat a contravention of the Act.
An inspector observes workers on a housing construction site carrying out small works that have a short duration (replacing one roof sheet). The workers are using a travel restraint system that the inspector has determined is adequately controlling the risk of a fall and the PCBU has determined that, given the short duration of the task, it is not reasonably practicable to put in place fall prevention.
No enforcement action is required by the inspector.
In this scenario, the PCBU has made a determination (also not required to be in writing) about what control measures are reasonably practicable under the circumstances. Since the risk of a fall has been controlled, workers are not exposed to an immediate or imminent serious risk and a prohibition notice can not be issued.
Provided the PCBU can give the inspector their determination why fall prevention was not reasonably practicable (the PCBU has followed the process in s78 and s79 of the Regulation) then an improvement notice is not justified.
An inspector observes a scaffold erection on a housing construction site where the workers erecting the scaffold are exposed to the risk of a fall of 2.9m and no control measures are in place.
An inspector could issue a prohibition notice to stop the scaffold erection if the inspector has formed a reasonable belief that workers are exposed to an uncontrolled immediate or imminent serious risk.
Regulation 306P of the Regulation states that a person must not erect, or allow another person to erect, scaffolding if a person could fall at least three metres in erecting the scaffolding. Given the height in this scenario, this section would not apply. However, the general fall provisions (s78 and s79 of the Regulation) would still apply.
Download the presentations delivered at the working at heights in construction briefing (PDF, 677 kB)