Taking safety to new heights
Height safety specialist, CARL SACHS outlines the implications the new Work Health and Safety Regulations will have for height safety.
The new Work Health and Safety regulations and the How to Prevent Falls at Workplaces code of practice are on the table. Both of these have implications for facility management, and building and facility managers need to implement new processes to ensure these new regulations are adhered to. So, what do they mean for height safety? The major changes are:
1. You don’t have to be two metres high any more
State-based legislation and the national code of practice for fall prevention applied once a person was working at a height of two metres or more. This limit is about to be replaced with an obligation to minimise the likelihood of a fall from any height. In real terms, the law will encompass falls from low-level platforms and ladders.
2. Hierarchy of control implemented
A five-level hierarchy of control is one of the major changes for New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia. The five-level system is good news, as it considers human behaviour and cost-effectively deals with risk reduction. It reduces the risk of falls and lowers the cost of control measures by calling for higher-order controls, such as walkways and guardrails. The more commonly used lower-order controls, such as administrative controls or procedures, demand much more documentation and maintenance.
3. Preventing suspension trauma through rescue
The model code details the consequences of being suspended in a harness for long periods and alerts the reader to the likelihood of death by suspension. Self-rescue is no longer acceptable. At least one trained person must be on standby at the site to execute a rescue without relying on any assistance from the suspended person. Apart from the costs of training, supervision and rescue equipment, this significantly increases the labour cost of working in a harness.
4. Regular inspections for ladders required
The model code details ladder use, inspections and maintenance, acknowledging that this may be an option when all other options have been exhausted. This may increase the cost of ladder use and is likely to steer users towards higher-order controls, such as scaffolding and elevated working platforms.
5. Australian Standards now a legal requirement
Now more than simply a guide based on the collective knowledge of industry experts, the Australian Standard for ladders, guardrail, platform and walkways, AS/NZS1657, is referenced in the new code of practice. Referenced standards are admissible in court as evidence of safety requirements and AS/NZS1891, which covers industrial fall arrest systems and devices, has also been widely referenced. AS/NZS1657 is also referenced in the National Construction Code (formerly the BCA), making it essential to meet both to comply with this legislation.
6. Stiffer penalties apply
The penalties for those held responsible for tragic falls are much steeper and match the degree of culpability and the degree of harm. Occupational health and safety lawyer, Michael Tooma notes that court-imposed penalties are only part of the cost faced by employers after an incident.
“A serious injury or fatality will usually result in quite an extensive investigation. That investigation will often lead, if it is a fatality, to a coronial inquest, a lot of scrutiny of their organisation and all the individuals and organisations involved. There will be a lot of media attention, there will be a lot of attention from unions and there will be a lot of attention from members of the public,” Tooma states.
He adds that it is a long drawn-out process that often culminates in a prosecution. “It might be the prosecution of the company or it might be the prosecution of individuals like officers of the company. In addition to the penalties of up to $3 million and five years’ imprisonment for individuals, the loss of reputation will be significant,” he notes.
Before preparing for the new regulations, ensure compliance with the previous height safety laws and then methodically identify all possible fall hazards. Thereafter, reconsider future controls in light of the hierarchy of controls for working at heights – particularly for workplaces based in New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia – and include all risks at any height. Be sure to allocate a risk rating, so rectification work can be prioritised and control activities can be rated high-risk immediately.
Carl Sachs is the managing director of national falls prevention specialist Workplace Access and Safety. He represents the Master Builders Association on Australian Standards committee AS/NZS1657 and the Facilities Management Association on committee AS1891. He works closely with major corporations and government to increase the awareness of falls issues to achieve compliance throughout Australia.