By Lucy Wyndham
About 29 people die every day in Australia as a result of work-related falls, according to the latest reports by Safe Work Australia. More particularly, 11% of work-related deaths in Australia are as a result of falling from heights. Working at heights is still ranked as one of the major workplace hazards and cause of occupational fatalities and injuries. Matter of fact, in Australia, it's the third major cause of death after motor vehicle accidents and being hit by moving or falling objects. People often misunderstand and overlook the risks involved with working at heights, as they tend to only think one would have to be working from a tall tower or a skyscraper for it to happen. Contrary to popular belief, most work-related injuries occur with individuals below three meters above the ground. That said it is important for companies and the employees themselves to take necessary measures to minimize the severity of or completely eliminate such accidents.
Even though workers in construction and maintenance sites are particularly at a higher risk of falling from heights, the risk also applies to many other people in different professions such as roof cleaners, decorators and window cleaners, painters, and people who do ad hoc work without proper planning, training or equipment. It, therefore, goes without saying that companies involved should conduct risk assessment to identify potential risks that could cause falls. In most cases, falls are caused by either gaps and holes on the roof, unprotected edges, absence of a fall arrest system or fragile materials underfoot. Despite the obvious dangers of working at heights, it's astonishing how people often neglect basic safety measures which lead to devastating consequences. Once the assessment is completed, the responsibility lies on the employer to implement control measures that will help maintain health and safety at the workplace, by reducing the risk of any employee falling while working at heights.
Planning appropriately is the first step towards ensuring the safety of workers before starting any job that involves heights. As a manager, ensure you examine and weigh any potential risks of upcoming work. If possible, try and avoid situations where employees are working at heights by devising alternative solutions that will not pose as much risk such as the use of drones. However, if unavoidable, ensure that the work is carefully supervised and conducted by the most experienced staff. Furthermore, ensure you have a rescue and emergency evacuation plan in place just in case an accident occurs. Getting a workers compensation insurance will also come in handy as should there be any injury, you can rest assured your employee will be getting the best care possible and their family is provided for.
Employees working at heights should have the right equipment necessary to do the work. Workers should use rails or straps that prevent them from falling. Those using personal fall arrest systems should choose the right equipment suitable for the job. For instance, if workers are welding at heights, a standard nylon harness will definitely not be appropriate. Workers should always wear goggles, hard hats, and gloves to protect themselves in case they happen to fall. Moreover, all safety equipment should be regularly checked, maintained and stored in mint condition.
When working at heights, issues related to falling off a ladder are the most common. In Australia, an average of 1600 people are hospitalized every year as a result of ladder accidents while working at heights as per a report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. It is important that employees use ladders correctly and carefully while climbing. Ensure the ladder is strong enough and suited for the job and it's positioned on the ground level. Moreover, employees should be well trained on how to check ladders and ensure the hinged metals are locked down accordingly before climbing.
Working at heights attracts inherent hazards. Therefore, employees and employers need to properly assess the risks involved and carefully plan. This plan should cover both low and high elevations so as to minimize the chances of falling from heights and hence maintain safety at the workplace. Even though regulation is important in raising standards, compliance alone is not sufficient and therefore there is a further need to instill positive safety behaviors within the workplace by conducting safety seminars and training sessions.