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Understanding your legal obligation when it comes to height safety – Part Two

Understanding your legal obligation when it comes to height safety – Part Two

Following up on part one of my interview series with Michael Tooma, I spoke to Michael about the laws approach to dealing with risks and the steps that all businesses need to consider with height safety. In addition I will provide feedback as to the steps you can undertake to ensure compliance and more importantly that your people are safe.

Click here for Part One | Click here for Part Three

– Script –

This legislation is at the end of the day about looking after people and making sure that they go home safely to their families and there are a lot of things that we ought to be doing in organizations, higher up the chain in terms of preventative action that are designed to ensure that they deliver that outcome in a more effective way. Fall prevention is one of those classic situations where a lot of the time our mind goes straight into lower order controls. Personal protective equipment by another name which is like fall arrest equipment for example. Harnesses, we talk about harnesses being synonymies with fall prevention, but really, you are now talking about the lowest order of control in terms of the hierarchy. What you really want is to have more passive controls in place to make sure that people don’t have to think about whether or not they’re going to all or not because they are prevented from falling through preventative barriers and edge protection and those types of measures. And they should be at the fore of the approach that you take to managing health and safety in this area. That’s the way in which you protect your legal liability, that’s the way in which you make sure your people go home safely to their family and that’s the happy marriage between compliance and Safety. But if you’re overly focused on compliance then you are being driven by the wrong values.

How the working at heights hierarchy of control is different from anything else

You have identified the hazards, assessed the risk, put control measures in place, consulted with employees and documented every step. Are you safe?

When it comes to safe work at heights, maybe not. Legislation surrounding working at heights is quite prescriptive and the standard risk assessment process is simply not enough.

The familiar hierarchy of controls sets out the order of control measures, running from elimination to substitution, followed by engineering, administration, and finally, personal protective equipment. In the field of working at heights however, the law takes the hierarchy of control mechanisms beyond such loose terms and lays out the equipment and systems to match.

How do the falls regulations, Australian Standards and codes of practice relate to each other?

– Script –

It all works together. You have the act on one hand that imposes the general duty of care obligations. You have then got the regulations that provide a bit more flesh on the bone and prescribe a process which you must manage risks arising from falls, they are called fore hazards, and then you have Australian Standards that provide some guidance in relation to how practically you might comply with those obligations. You also have codes of practice which are approved under the legislation and all those work together as part of the pyramid of obligations. At the end of the day, the regulators are focused on enforcing the act, the regulations, the rest of the documents provide some guidance on how you might go about doing that and it’s by doing those things that the guidance materials provides that you discharge your obligations under the act and regulations.

How important are the Australian Standards?

– Script –

Under the new legislation that won’t be the case. Previously there have been and previously the Australian standards are a feature of the legislative regime. It doesn’t mean that you ignore them it doesn’t mean that it is something you don’t have to worry about. They are things that are the collective wisdom of years and years of experience in this area. Then the legislation is more preventative and more general in its terms.

Well, you’ll find that very quickly people will be referring to the Australian Standards and the failure to comply, the Australian Standard as an example of what is the collective knowledge in this area and one of the things that you should have done but didn’t in this area. People will also be referring to the codes of practice that are relevant in relation to fall prevention. They will be using all those things as examples of how you have failed to ensure the health and safety of people who work for you, workers under the legislation or even members of the public that have been effected by the way you have set up your building, the way you have managed your risks in terms of fall prevention. All those things add up to a single outcome which is that you can’t ignore those documents. You ignore those documents at your peril.

That’s a lot of reading! How do I stay on top of all my obligations?

Because Workplace Access & Safety people have had a hand in drafting Australia’s fall prevention rules on behalf of the Master Builders Association and the FMA, including AS 1657, AS/NZS 1891 and AS/NZS 5532, we understand their intricacies.

All our reports offer practical advice that allows workplaces to manage their obligations, step by step, and we keep our clients up to date with changes to the regulations, Australian Standards and codes of practice.

Want to learn more about height safety? Contact us to see how we can make height safety simple

Click here for Part One | Click here for Part Three


About The Author

Carl Sachs is the Managing Director of the working at heights specialists Workplace Access & Safety. He is a renowned expert in height safety and consults to major corporations and government on working at height. He represents the FMA (Facility Managers Association) on Australian standard committee AS/NZS1891, and was a committee member that redrafted AS1657. He is Chairman of the Technical Committee of WAHA (Working at Heights Association), and is a director of the Association.