Managing the Risks of Working from Heights on Construction Sites

Employers, are you sure you’re doing all you can to eliminate or minimise the risks of work from heights? The truth is falls from heights are the most common cause of fatalities on construction sites in Oz.

Perhaps one of the reasons why falling is such as common occurrence on construction sites is because there are so many ways in which workers are exposed to slipping, tripping and falling hazards.

A worker in Calgary landed in serious condition in hospital after he fell 4 storeys at a jobsite while engaging in construction work. It is believed that as he fell the worker struck other building surfaces before hitting the ground.

Read this excerpt from which explains what happened:

The his late 40s, was working on a building under construction at Crowchild Trail and 53rd Street N.W. around 7:30 a.m. Saturday when he apparently fell.

“Initial concerns were the significant height of the fall for concerns of internal injuries,” said Stuart Brideaux with Calgary EMS. “He may have struck other building surfaces before he touched the ground.”

The man’s co-workers provided first aid until emergency crews arrived, Brideaux said.

Occupational Health and Safety is expected to investigate the incident.

According to paramedics, any fall of a distance over 10 feet is considered quite serious.

The worker fell roughly forty feet.

Read more:

Although each workplace will conduct their own risk assessment and have varying control measures introduced these are some examples of the measures that can be undertaken

  • Temporary work platforms

Risks must be controlled through the use of stable and securely fenced work platforms (such as scaffolding or other forms of portable work platform).

  • Guardrails

Guardrails should only be used in situations when it is not reasonably practicable to use temporary work platforms.The perimeter of buildings, structures, pits, tanks, floor openings, etc, should have guardrails to stop people falling over the edge. The guardrails should have the necessary strength so that they are able to withstand the impact of a person falling against them.

  • Fall arrest systems

Fall arrest systems should only be used in situations when it is not reasonably practicable to use either temporary work platforms or guardrails. Fall arrest equipment such as harnesses and lanyards can be used as travel restriction systems to prevent workers moving from safe to unsafe areas.

  • Training is one of the key ways of teaching workers how to overcome fall hazards. Training in the form of site specific safety training as well as white card training can educate workers about the risks and control measures to overcome fall hazards.

One of the topics covered by the White Card course is Slips, Trips and Falls. Slips, trips and falls contribute to a large amount of injuries on construction sites particularly causing musculoskeletal injuries. Sprains, strains, cuts, bruises, fractions and even death can result from a fall from a height. Even falls from relatively low heights can be serious and possibly fatal which is yet another reason why White Card training should not just be an option but a priority for every worker entering the building industry.


Building Site Apprentice critical after worksite fall

Source : GilbertoFilho

Another shocking incident occurred on a Canberra building site which has left a young worker critical in hospital after sustaining a fall. The worker, a 20 year old apprentice, fell five meters causing him to sustain serious head injuries.

The apprentice was conducting maintenance on a garage roller door on Wednesday afternoon last week when he received an electric shock causing him to fall off the ladder 5m to the ground.

The incident has highlighted the need for greater safety on Canberra building sites following the inquiry by the ACT government into safety in the industry. This is the fourth incident of this nature to occur on a building site in the ACT since December last year and has caused the site to be shut down by WorkSafe.

This report on details the incident:

The man was working for a company contracted by the ACT Government to carry out maintenance on the site at the old bus depot on Dundas Street in Phillip.

The site is being leased by a car detailing company.

WorkSafe ACT has shut down the work site.

The accident happened just hours after the construction union staged a rally in Civic calling on the ACT Government to improve worker safety on construction sites.

Police and WorkSafe ACT are investigating.

Work safety commissioner Mark McCabe says it is an extremely serious incident.

“Some people have said to me ‘will it become more serious if the condition of the worker worsens?’,” he said.

“It will from a human point of view. From our point of view it’s a serious incident already. It could very easily have led to a much worse circumstance than it is as the moment. It’s up there with the highest of incidents.”

The Electrical Trades Union is seeking more details about the accident.

Spokesman Neville Betts says the union wants to know whether the apprentice was properly supervised.


There are 2 major safety issues that this incident highlights. The first is the need for greater safety when working from heights, on ladders, scaffolds, roofs etc. The second issue is the need for inexperienced workers to be supervised, especially when undertaking dangerous task such as work from heights.

Supervisors need to keep an extra eye on inexperienced workers such as apprentices until the complete their training.

Workers undertaking work from ladders should always follow these safety guidelines to minimise risk of falling or injury:

  • Always face the ladder when going up or down.
  • You should stand on a rung that is at least 900mm from the top of a single or extension ladder.
  • Always stand on or below the second rung below the top plate of any stepladder.
  • When hoisting tools to the top in bucket once you have climbed to the top and not carried in your hands
  • Both hands should be kept on the ladder at all times
  • Make sure the ladder is properly secured before climbing
  • Another important factor is that ladders are properly maintained and should have no missing rungs etc.

When undertaking electrical work, extra fall protection should be used to prevent an incident of this nature occurring.


Basic Tips for Working from Heights

Falls from heights have been identified as the main cause of injury in construction workers. Civil construction sites in particular possess a high fall injury record.

Employers are often to blame, because they fail to provide supervision and fall protection, or fail to train workers on how to effectively use fall arrest systems. Many employers have been prosecuted for this, so in order to safeguard themselves employers should follow safety procedures.

1. Develop and Allocate responsibilities to workers for managing fall prevention. It is not only the employer’s duty to manage fall prevention workers also have a role to play.

2. Identify All Fall Hazards, for example work from house roofs, work on fragile or unstable surfaces, work on sloping or slippery surfaces, work near an edge, hole, pit or shaft.

3. Assess potential dangers and possible circumstances that may increase the risk of the fall.

4. Question whether the work can be done from the ground to eliminate the hazard or can a work positioning system be used to minimise the risk of falling.

5. Implement fall prevention measuresto control the risk, if the risk cannot be removed and train workers on these measures.

6. Ensure Emergency Procedures are in place in the event of a fall and workers are well trained in emergency response procedures.

7. Use the correct plant for the task and do so safely. Also ensure fall prevention devices are properly maintained and used.

8. Regularly conduct risk assessments and access safety measures at every site and as changes occur, review measures regularly.