Date published: 18/11/2016
WorkSafe Victoria inspections are set to increase to prevent falls from height on construction sites. What are the implications for design consultants?
In the last decade, 17 construction workers have been killed and 1,350 injured (many severely) due to falls from height on construction sites, so the need for working safely at height has never been greater. WorkSafe Victoria has recently kicked off a campaign to increase the number of construction site inspections it undertakes in an attempt to reduce the risk of falls from height.
In this article, we recap the basic principles and then consider the repercussions for design consultants in Victoria and other states.
Duty Holders’ Obligations
Under Victorian OHS legislation, duty holders (employers, principal contractors and others involved in the control or management of construction sites) already have a general obligation to identify and reduce the risk of falls from any height. However, construction work involving a risk of falls from more than two metres is considered high risk and extra duties will apply (these are set out in Part 3.3 of the OHS Regulations 2007).
How should duty holders ensure they comply with their obligations?
Work conducted over two metres
Duty holders should develop in consultation with employees and contractors a Safe Work Method Statement which must:
- Identify high risk work from height and hazards / risks to health and safety;
- Sufficiently describe measures to control the risk; and
- Describe the manner in which these control measures will be implemented.
Ideally, risk should be eliminated by working on the ground where possible (or, for example, by craning completed work to safe parts of buildings at height). However, if that is not possible, then compliance can be met by reducing those risks through the implementation of control measures (which should be applied in decreasing order of priority):
- Using passive fall prevention devices (e.g. scaffolds, elevated platforms or guardrails);
- Using a work positioning system (e.g. travel restraint system)
- Using a fall arrest-harness system;
- Using a ladder; or
- If none of these measures are reasonably practicable, consider implementing an administrative control (such as signage and supervision).
A good process might include a combination of both operational and administrative control measures.
Work conducted under 2 metres
The overarching principle for employers and other duty holders when conducting work under 2 metres in height is to ensure that a safe workplace is provided using whatever means are reasonably practicable to implement.
WorkSafe Inspectors will expect duty holders to be able to evidence compliance with the requirements of Part 3.3 of the Regulations, as well as their general OHS duties. Duty holders will also need to be able to demonstrate they have been through the process of determining whether control measures are appropriate (and if so which ones) and to document that process and communicate decisions with stakeholders.
Implications for Designers
The WorkSafe Victoria initiative serves as a timely reminder for designers of buildings (including architects, engineers and others) about what their minimum duties are in terms of safe design. Across Australia, they must do what is “reasonably practicable” to make buildings safe for people who work in them. This includes cleaning and maintenance, and, in states that have adopted the nationally harmonised law, also construction.
Working from height is a key area where designers can reduce or eliminate a serious safety risk throughout the life of a building. Some solutions might be specifying durable solutions that minimise the need for maintenance, and siting lights and other fittings on walls or on rigs that can be lowered for maintenance from the ground.
Designers should bear in mind the basic principles set out in this article while contemplating the safety risks inherent in their design and how they can be minimised.
For further information on safe design obligations and working from height, please see:
- Our informed Practice Guides on Safe Design (available to subscribers and some Planned Cover Insurance Clients)
In the last decade, 17 construction workers have been killed and 1,350 injured (many severely) due to falls from height on construction sites, so the need for working safely at height has never been greater.