Falls

Chapter 4, Part 4 of the Work Health and Safety Regulations 2012

Falls from heights are a common cause of death in workplaces across South Australia. Even from a relatively low height, a fall can cause very serious injuries, including fractures, spinal cord injury, concussions and brain damage. In 2010-2011, 7730 claims for serious injury were lodged due to a fall from a height. A fall from height in the workplace may occur due to a slip or sudden loss of balance. Other factors which may contribute to falls at height include:

  • Task performed
  • Scheduling of work
  • Type of plant / machinery  in use
  • Training and experience of workers
  • Surface collapse
  • Loss of grip
  • Clothing
  • Moving surfaces
  • Possibility of being struck by a moving or falling object

Typical falls that cause death and injury include those resulting from:

  • Using unsafe or incomplete scaffolds
  • Inappropriate ladders/ladder use
  • Falling from or through roofs
  • Falls from trucks
  • Falls into holes, pits or shafts
  • Accessing shelving
  • Accessing mezzanine areas.

Control measure must be put into place before beginning any task involving working at heights, to minimise the risk of a fall. These include:
–  physical barriers
–  personal fall protection devices (harness, restraining belt)
–  catching devices

Physical Barriers
Physical barriers are the preferred method of fall prevention. Examples of physical barriers include: edge protection systems and fall protection covers.

Edge protection systems are barriers erected around the edge of a building, structure or hole. An edge protection system may consist or guard railing or vertical containment sheeting. Guard rail systems should be used on the edges of:

  • working platforms
  • walkways
  • stairways
  • ramps
  • landings

A guard rail should run parallel to the working surface and not be further than 100 mm outside the edge of the working surface. The height of the guard rail should be between 900 mm and 1100 mm above the working surface. These should be strong enough to withstand the impact from a person falling against it.

Fall protection covers are a protective structure placed over holes and openings to prevent falls. All holes and openings through which a person can fall must have fall protection covers in place. A cover should be capable of supporting the impact of a person falling onto it. Fall protection covers are usually sheeted with:

  • solid sheeting (timber, plywood or metal) or
  • mesh

Personal Fall Protection
Personal fall protection systems are systems which secure a person to a building or structure. They should only be used where it is not possible to use physical barrier systems such as working platforms, edge protection or fall protection covers. However, personal fall protection may be used in addition to physical barrier systems of fall protection.

Personal fall protection equipment includes:

  • Travel restraint devices which prevent a person from reaching an unprotected edge by tethering them to an eye-bolt or other suitable anchorage point. This type of fall protection is preferred over those that arrest a person after they have fallen.
  • Fall arrest systems which arrest a person once he or she has fallen e.g. fall-arrest full harness with lanyard assembly.

People working at heights should be properly trained and supervised in the use of this equipment. In addition, it is important when using a fall-arrest system to ensure there are no obstructions in the potential fall path.

Catching Devices And Safety Nets
A catch platform is a temporary platform located below a work area. The platform should be of robust construction and designed to sustain the impact of a person falling onto it. A catch platform should be placed as close as possible to the underside of the work area to minimise the distance a person can fall from the work platform.

A safety net is an industrial net which is attached to or supported by a scaffold or attached directly to the framework of a building, bridge or tower to catch a person who has fallen.

These devices should only be used where it is not possible to provide any more reliable means of fall protection

Approximately 900 workplace injuries were sustained from working at heights in South Australia in 2000. The number of accidents can be reduced by taking a sensible approach:

  • Plan and organise work properly.
  • Make sure that people involved in work at height are competent.
  • Select and use the right equipment.
  • Keep walkways on site clear of obstructions

A number of Australian Standards apply to work performed at heights:
AS 1576          Scaffolding
AS 1801          Industrial Safety Helmets
AS 1891          Industrial Fall Arrest Systems and Devices
AS 1892          Portable Ladders
AS 2210          Occupational Protective Footwear
AS 2359          Powered Industrial Trucks
AS 2550          Cranes – Safe use
AS 4576          Guidelines for Scaffolding
AS 1891          Industrial fall-arrest systems and devices

LADDER SAFETY
Ladders and stepladders are the most commonly used pieces of access equipment for a wide range of tasks and perhaps the most misused, so it is essential that those who use ladders are trained and competent to do so.

Ladders are generally considered high-risk plant and should only be used if there is no other practicable alternative. They should only be considered for light work of short duration and where the use of other more suitable work equipment is not appropriate. If ladders are used, they should be:

  • of the correct type
  • in good condition
  • placed on firm level ground
  • properly secured
  • and set at the correct length and angle for the job

Do not use a ladder or step ladder if:

  • there is a missing or weakened, broken or otherwise defective rung or tread, or a broken or defective stile; or
  • any rung or tread depends for its support solely on nails, spikes, or other similar fixing device

 Portable step ladders should:

  • Be rated at no less than 120 kg capacity, and be marked industrial
  • Not to be used on working platforms to gain height above the protected floor edge
  • Only be used in the fully opened position
  • Be of a length that ensures a persons feet are not positioned any higher than the second top rung.

Portable single or extension ladders should:

  • Pitched at a slope of 1 horizontal to 4 vertical
  • Extend 900 mm above the last surface where a person can gain access and should
    not be used:
  • in access areas or within the arc or swinging doors
  • on working platforms to gain height above the protected edge
  • to support a work platform

Risk Control Measures

  • Only one person at a time may use or work from a single ladder.
  • Always face the ladder when ascending or descending it.
  • Keep three limbs on the ladder at any one time, ie both hands and one foot or both feet and one hand. ­
  • Carry tools in a tool belt, pouch or holster, not in your hands, so you can keep hold of the ladder.
  • Wear fully enclosed slip resistant footwear when using ladder.
  • Ladders shall not be joined together to form a longer ladder

Ladders should be designed in accordance with:
AS 1892.1       Portable Ladders Part 1 Metal
AS 1892.2       Portable Ladders Wood
AS 1657          Fixed Platforms, Walkways, Stairways and Ladders – Design, Construction & Installation.

Did you know that…?

 

  • Workplace injury and disease destroys quality of like, social and family activities, affects job prospects and career advancement.
  • Every 2-3 minutes someone in Australia is injured seriously enough to lodge a workers compensation claim.
  • There are almost 690,000 work-related incidents – including diseases, injuries and fatalities each year. In 2007-08 there were 150 notified work-related fatalities. These figures underestimate the true scale of the problem.
  • The Australian Safety and Compensation Council stated in its March 2009 report Cost of related death, disease and injury that: “Disease fatality estimates are considered to be a conservative estimate, with studies estimating that as many as 7000 fatalities may occur each year as a result of work-related disease”. This is four times the annual national road toll.
  • Injury death and illness comes at an enormous cost to the community. The total economic cost of work-related injuries and illnesses for the 2005-06 financial year was $57.5 billion which was 5.9% of GDP.

USEFUL LINKS
Related Safeguard from SafeWork SA:

Ladder safety
Fragile Roofing
Elevated Work platforms

 

Acknowledgments:
Code of Practice – Managing the Risk of Falls
SafeWork SA www.safework.sa.gov.au
WHS Legislation; Sections 22, 46-48
WHS Regulations; Regulations 34-38, 42, 78 – 80, 225