What are the most effective ways to control the risk of falls when working at heights

There are a number of ways to control the risks of falls.  Some control measures are more effective than others.  Control measures can be ranked from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest.  This ranking is known as the hierarchy of control.  The WHS Regulations require duty holders to work through this hierarchy to choose the control that most effectively eliminates or minimises the risk in the circumstances.  This may involve a single control measure or a combination of two or more different methods

In managing the risks of falls, the WHS Regulations require the following specific control measures to be implemented, where it is reasonably practicable to do so:

  1. Can the need to work at height be avoided to eliminate the risk of a fall?
    Carry out any work that involves the risk of a fall on the ground.
  2. Can the fall be prevented by working on a solid construction
    * A building or structure that is used as an existing place of work and includes safe
    access and egress from which there is no risk of a fall from one level to another, for
    example properly constructed stairs with fixed handrails, flat roofs with a parapet
    or permanently installed guard rails around the edges.

It is usually not necessary to implement additional control measures to manage the risk of falls for workplaces in buildings that already comply with the requirements of the National Construction Code of Australia, for example in relation to stairs, mezzanines and balconies.

      3.  Can the risk of a fall be minimised by providing and maintaining a   safe system of work, including: 

a. providing a fall prevention device (for example, installing guard rails) if it is     reasonably practicable to do so, or

b. providing a work positioning system (for example, an industrial rope access system)
if it is not reasonably practicable to provide a fall prevention device, or

c.  providing a fall-arrest system, so far as is reasonably practicable, if it is not reasonably practicable to provide a fall prevention device or a work positioning system.

In some cases a combination of control measures may be necessary, for example using a safety harness while working from an elevating work platform.

Control measures are needed where there is a risk of injury irrespective of fall height. For low falls, you should assess the risk and provide reasonably practicable measures that reflect the risk. For example, there may be a risk of injury to workers standing on a narrow 1.7 metre high platform next to a production line where they have to work with their back to the open edge or where there is a risk of falling onto an uneven surface with sharp edges or protrusions. In this situation it may be reasonably practicable to install a guard rail along the edge of the platform.

Sometimes it may not be reasonably practicable to provide guard rails, for example at the edges of railway platforms or vehicle inspection pits. Other safe systems of work to provide adequate protection should be implemented, for example brightly painted lines to designate edges.

Work of long duration and higher frequency will usually require control measures higher up the hierarchy to provide adequate protection, for example using a mobile scaffold instead of a ladder.

You should also ensure that the control measures you select do not create new hazards, for example electrical risks from contact with overhead power lines or crushing and entanglement from plant such as elevating work platforms.