Falling from heights has long been identified as the most common cause of deaths on construction sites in Australia. The reason for this may be that employers and workers are not awarding the appropriate attention to the development of safety procedures on site.

It is vital to site safety that hazards be identified before beginning work. This can be done a number of ways depending on the type of work involved and the hazards associated with the hazard.

Consulting with workers is an informative and helpful means of identifying hazards as workers are most in contact with work processes and hazards. Workers usually have first hand experience of hazards.

When carrying out the following activities, a risk assessment exercise should always be carried out:

  • on an unstable surface
  • on a surface which is sloping and/or slippery
  • near an unprotected edge or opening.
  • on a structure being constructed or being demolished
  • on fragile roofing
  • while using access equipment

By carrying out a risk assessment employers are able to implement the appropriate control measures. Once hazards have been identified they should be assessed in terms of their risks.

The risk to be assessed is involves questioning:

1.       The likelihood that injury will occur

2.       The severity of the injury should it occur.

Factors to consider when assessing the likelihood and severity of risk that may cause a person to

fall include:

  • condition of the work surface, e.g. an uneven surface or a surface with unprotected edges which are not identified or are difficult to see
  • bad weather conditions, e.g. heavy rain or wind
  • number of people who may be at risk
  • location of the work area
  • location of access routes
  • type of work to be carried out
  • work practices in use
  • scheduling of work
  • type of plant, machinery and equipment to be used
  • training and experience of the people carrying out the work
  • sudden acceleration or deceleration
  • moving from one surface to another
  • the capability of the surface to support the load
  • loss of hand grip
  • type of footwear
  • equipment, tools, or rubbish obstructing work areas
  • incorrect use of ladders
  • clothing catching
  • moving surfaces
  • lighting
  • likelihood of being struck by a moving or falling object.


Once the risk has been identified and assessed the risks should be either eliminated or substituted.

As with all hazards controls must be implemented in the following order:

  • eliminate the hazard, e.g. work on the ground instead of from a height
  • minimise the risk, such as substituting a work process with a less hazardous one, such as using walkways for access instead of using ladders.
  • Isolation of the hazard, e.g. using a physical barrier
  • modify the system of work or equipment such as using a travel restraint
  • If none of the above can reduce the hazard sufficiently, adopt administrative controls, such as changing work rosters.
  • Personal protective equipment should be the last resort, but should be worn as an additional safety measure.

A workplace health and safety plan should be used to manage workplace health and such as plan should include how to handle hazards to health and safety from working on an elevated position or any place from which a person can fall.

The risks need to be assessed and identify which risks could result in a fall hazard. Employers should also consider control measures to eliminate or minimise the level of risk. Employers should also indicate how the control measures can be monitored and reviewed.

Control measures must be in place before a worker starts work at a height, such as ensuring working platforms are in place before formwork is erected. Some cases warrant more than control measure at time to be implemented in conjunction with one another. Physical barriers are the preferred method of preventing a person from falling from height, examples include edge protection systems and fall protection covers.

An edge protection system can be made of guard railing to be used on the edge of working platforms, walkways, stairways, ramps and landings and should run parallel to the working surface.

Holes or openings are often covered with wire mesh. These should not be used as a working platform. All covers should be securely fixed around the hole. Signs should also be attached to the cover to warn people that there is a hole underneath. This is a particularly dangerous hazard as many lives have been lost when workers fell through these mesh covers.

For example, metal mesh is spread on top of purlins or battens to provide fall protection for roof installers from falling between the purlins or battens.

Systems of work and equipment that secure a person to a building or structure are known as personal fall protection, and should be used to minimise the risk of a person falling from a height or injury to a person after they have fallen from height.

The best method of protection is to use personal fall protection in conjunction with other fall protection systems. The use of these fall protection systems requires proper training to ensure that workers are using the equipment correctly if it is reduce the injury caused by falling.

A fall-arrest system is another method of fall protection, designed to arrest the fall of a worker. This system usually consists of a fall-arrest harness is an assembly of interconnected shoulder and leg straps, with or without a body belt designed to spread the load over the body and to prevent the wearer from falling out of the assembly.

An important factor in the safe use of a fall-arrest system is to reduce the free fall distance as far as possible. Correctly installed fall-arrest equipment will only safely arrest a fall if there are no obstructions in the fall path. The longer the free fall distance the greater the risk of the person hitting obstructions.

What to do if a person Falls

If a worker should fall, act immediately to retrieve the worker.

Catch platform and safety nets should only be used where it is not possible to provide any more reliable means of fall protection. A catch platform is a temporary platform located under a work area to catch a person after they have fallen.

A safety net must be installed as close as possible to the underside of the work area, but not in contact with the surface. The safety net must cover an area extending beyond the work area.

Personal Protective Clothing

Footwear that minimises the risk of slipping should be worn when working where there is a risk of falls from heights, as just one slip could prove fatal. Consider the surface you are going to be working on, for example it may be raining and the surface wet and slippery.

Also a safety helmet should be worn and safely attached to the persons head so that in the evnt of a fall it does not become removed from the person as this would defeat the purpose of wearing a helmet in the first place.

By following the correct safety procedures, the number of deaths that result from falls each year on construction sites can be reduced and more lives can be saved.

Posted by Steven Asnicar



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