Ongoing accidents caused by workers falling from heights exemplify the need for an industry code for height safety installations. Here, Working At Heights Association (WAHA) CEO Richard Millar outlines the most common injuries and issues associated with failed height safety installations, and the case for industry adapting its industry code.
There have been many articles published over the years attempting to educate and inform industry on the risks associated with working at height.
Workers — or even people working at home — may find themselves carrying out work that requires finding ways to protect themselves from falling from, over, through or off a structure.
The statistics related to falls from height are concerning. Safe Work Australia publications provide annual statistical information on deaths in industry consistently indicating that fatalities as a result of falls from height continue to be the second highest cause of death every year for the last 15 years. Two people die every month in Australia as a result of falling from height.
These statistics do not include other injuries sustained from falls, which are often life-changing and may include, but not be limited to:
- head injuries — falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injury
- hip fractures
- back and spinal cord injuries
- shoulder injuries
- sprains and fractures.
Challenges facing systems designed to prevent falls
The engineering controls for working at height include installed systems featuring:
- anchor points
- safety rail systems
- safety line systems.
The systems are normally installed in areas of risk and are designed to provide a worker with free movement and limiting the potential fall to that of restraint when accessing the risk area.
There were many reported instances reported to the Working at Height Association (WAHA) via its membership of engineered systems that have failed, either in pre-use inspections or by accidentally releasing the operatives who were relying on the systems for protection.
WAHA conducted a number of surveys with qualified installation companies and found significant issues with many installations, including:
- no/limited documentation;
- the quality of installations did not align with manufacturer requirements;
- the positioning of anchors, lifelines, ladders, ladder access brackets and a significant range of other products failed basic safety tests;
- no training/qualification of those that installed the systems;
- no/limited regulatory oversight for installations;
- certifications and recertifications of systems performed by people with little or no knowledge of potential operational issues; and
- profiteering by unqualified people.
It was apparent that facility mangers and asset owners were frustrated in not knowing where to turn — and by the potential risk users of the systems were taking.
Working at heights safety resources
The issues experienced with height safety installations are the reasons why WAHA developed its own Code of Practice for Permanent Anchor Systems, Lifelines and Rail Installations and believes that it should be adopted as an industry code to reduce fatalities and injuries.
Other resources exist as well. Both federal and state government regulators have — over time — trained their field operatives to educate and regulate industry. They have developed work practice documents on how to safely work at heights that are supported by regulation. Copies of these documents may be found on the WAHA website under https://www.waha.org.au/regulator-publications/.
Height safety training is available from registered training organisations (RTOs) in all states — offering a number of levels of competency for working at height (Reference AS/NZS1891.4 Appendix E). Many WAHA members are endorsed by the Association and may be accessed at https://www.waha.org.au/training-companies-courses/.
The way forward
With all the best intentions and resources provided to eradicate the trauma caused by a fall from height, falls continue to cause cost of life, reduction of lifestyle and trauma, and the cost to families and industry continues for a long period. This is why an industry code of practice is so important, and should be adopted by organisations that have employees who work at heights. The WAHA Code of Practice for Permanent Anchor Systems, Lifelines and Rail Installations is a free resource for all users, asset owners and installers and is available at www.waha.org.au/industry-codes/.
A government department responsible for government building assets such as schools, high rise and other buildings reported that the fall arrest systems on the roofs of these structures could not — after the annual assessment — be provided with a certificate of compliance for use even though they were in many cases only 12 months old.
It appeared that the installed systems often did not have any documentation to provide the assessor with the information needed to carry out a professional review of the system and its compliance.
The government body had started to take legal advice on the responsibility of the installers and the installed system’s ongoing compliance.
WAHA was contacted and, following an in-depth discussion on the various systems and accreditations for systems on their buildings and the responsibilities of manufacturers, suppliers, installers and asset owners, it was agreed that the government body would carry out an independent review and assessment of all systems.
It was agreed that the principles provided in the WAHA Code of Practice for Permanent Anchor Systems, Lifelines and Rail Installations would be adhered to by those organisations wishing to procure work on the government’s assets. They would also be required to carry WAHA endorsement for installations. This would enable the asset owner to meet the operational requirements of the regulator codes of practice for specific jurisdictions within which the installation was made after the installation was complete.
This case study is one of many showing asset owner concerns related to the ongoing maintenance of permanently installed systems, and is another reason why WAHA has prepared the Code of Practice for Permanent Anchor Systems, Lifelines and Rail Installations.
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