Heights – How to work on a solid construction
Working on a solid construction provides an environment where the likelihood of a fall may be eliminated. ‘Solid construction’ means an area that:
- is structurally capable of supporting workers, material and any other loads applied to it
- is provided with barriers around its perimeter and around any openings from or through which a person could fall
- has an even, accessible surface and gradient
- has a safe means of entry and exit.
Different types of work involve different loads on the supporting surface. The surface and its supports must be able to safely carry the expected loads, including workers, materials, tools and equipment. When in doubt, have a structural engineer determine the safe load capacity before use.
Barriers (or edge protection) to prevent a person falling over edges and into holes should be provided on relevant parts of a solid construction. These include:
- the perimeters of buildings or other structures
- mezzanine floors (see Figure 2)
- openings in floors
- the open edge of a stair, landing, platform or shaft opening
The barrier should be designed and constructed to withstand the force of someone falling against it.
Edge protection should consist of guard rails, solid balustrades or other structural components, for example wire mesh supported by posts and provided with a reinforced top edge. The top of the guard rail or component should be between 900 mm and 1100 mm above the working surface. If a guard rail system is used, it should also have mid-rails and toe boards or wire mesh infill panels.
If access is required to equipment (for example, a hoist) it should be protected with gates, safety chains or other means to prevent a person falling.
PROTECTION OF OPENINGS AND HOLES
Holes, penetrations and openings through which a person could fall should be made safe immediately after being formed.
If a cover is used as a control measure, it must be made of a material that is strong enough to prevent persons or objects falling through and must be securely fixed to prevent any dislodgement or accidental removal.
SURFACE AND GRADIENT
Surfaces of solid construction should be non-slip, free from trip hazards and should generally not exceed 7 degrees (1 in 8 gradient). Cleated surfaces, which provide greater slip-resistance, should not be steeper than 20 degrees (1 in 3 gradient).
If grid mesh or checker plate flooring is used for walkways and working platforms, ensure that:
- flooring panels are securely fixed and assembled in accordance with manufacturer’s specifications
- where possible, they are fitted to the structure prior to it being lifted into permanent position
- each panel is fixed securely before the next panel is placed in position
- during installation, this type of flooring is secured by tack welding, panel grips or other means to prevent movement before being fixed permanently
- if panels of grid mesh or checker plate flooring are removed, edge protection is provided and the gaps left due to removed panels are protected.
ENTRY AND EXIT
The solid construction must have a safe means for people to get to, from and move around the work area, for example permanently installed platforms, ramps, stairways and fixed ladders.
Further guidance is available in AS 1657 Fixed platforms, walkways, stairways and ladders – Design, construction and installation.
Safety considerations include:
- exposure of access systems to the weather (for example, rain can make surfaces slippery and strong winds can cause loss of hand grip)
- the provision of adequate natural or artificial lighting to all access ways
- the clearance of obstructions so that persons are able to move easily to and from the workplace.
Portable ladders should only be used where the use of safer systems is not reasonably practicable.