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Fall protection in construction

If you are required to work from height, you are required to manage the risk of a fall, and a fall prevention system is recommended because this will assist in limiting or removing the risk of an incident. The Working at Heights Association offers its advice on managing fall protection.

If you are required to work from height, you are required to manage the risk of a fall, and a fall prevention system is recommended because this will assist in limiting or removing the risk of an incident. The Working at Heights Association offers its advice on managing fall protection.

Safe Work NSW, in their document on ww.safework.nsw.gov.au indicate that in 2010-11, 7730 serious injuries were lodged due to falls from height. This means that 21 employees each day lodged a claim for a falls-related injury that required one or more weeks off work and males accounted for three-quarters of the falls-related claims.

Safe Work Australia in their document “Construction Industry Profile”, which may be found on www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au have shown that the number of workers in the construction industry has grown by 33 per cent over the last 11 years.

Within the construction industry, 76 per cent of workers were classed as employees and were covered by workers’ compensation schemes and there have been significant reductions in the numbers and rates of injuries and fatalities in this industry over the last ten years or more.

In 2013–14 the construction industry again accounted for 9 per cent of the workforce but accounted for 12 per cent of work-related fatalities. Around 12 600 workers’ compensation claims are accepted from the construction industry each year for injuries and diseases involving one or more weeks off work.

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This equates to 35 serious claims each day. In 2012–13, the construction industry had the 4th highest incidence rate of serious claims per 1000 employees and 5th highest fatality rate per 100, 000 workers in 2013–14.

Year-to-date 2020 as of October 8th there have been 121 Australians killed at work, not all in falls from height though the incidence of falls from height account for some 35 per cent of injuries and death in construction and mining, though it is interesting to note that construction is not the worst as transport, postal and warehousing head the list with 38 per cent of the deaths in industry, whilst Safe Work NSW list falls from trucks/vehicles as high risk.

Cranes are an important part of the various elements that make up the construction industry. Managers and PCBUs of the construction industry recognise that operating cranes is complex and can be dangerous requiring workers to have the necessary skills and capabilities to carry out their work safely.

Every year there are injuries and deaths from work involving cranes:

  • Between 2003 to 2015, 47 workers were killed in incidents involving cranes.
  • On average there are around 240 serious injury claims every year.
  • The most common causes of injuries are muscular stress while handling objects (21 per cent, being hit by moving objects (16 per cent), falls from a height (11 per cent), being trapped between stationary and moving objects (8 per cent) and being hit by falling objects (7 per cent).
  • The most common types of injuries are trauma to joints, ligaments muscles and tendons (41 per cent), wounds, lacerations, amputations and internal organ damage (27 per cent) and fractures (19 per cent).
  • The most common occupations involving crane incidents are machine and stationary plant drivers (29 per cent), automotive engineering and trades workers (19 per cent) and construction and mining labourers (12 per cent).

Falls from cranes certainly are not the major cause of injury or death which goes a long way to recognise the effort that the crane operators’ supervisors and managers prepare, train and counsel their workers to work safely at height.

Over the last 10 years or more, there have been significant reductions in the numbers and rates of injuries and fatalities in the construction industry though it still remains a high-risk industry where falls are a major cause of death and serious injury due to the type of work.

The focus of this article is to offer advice on managing fall protection, if you are required to work from height you are required to manage the risk of a fall, a fall prevention system is recommended as this will assist in limiting or removing the risk of a fall incident.

Fall protection PPE is normally only used when other methods designed to remove the risk such as temporary work platforms, guardrails and scaffolding solutions cannot be used to protect the worker.

Working in Restraint & Work Positioning is normally recommended and commonly used when working at height, this means to position a worker and adjust the lanyard length in such a way as to remove the immediate risk of a fall.

For further information on Height Safety, understanding the variations of equipment use and to help understand and plan to eliminate the risks see web site www.waha.org.au.

Work positioning can be “Working in Restraint” when working in a horizontal plane or ‘Working in Suspension” when working in a vertical orientation. Either way, work positioning is intended to reduce the risk of a fall by limiting a person’s ability to get into a place where they can fall, as there are physical barriers or equipment that can be implemented to achieve this aim.

When we need to work near an edge or on a structure offering limited security of some type, the worker often finds it necessary to use two hands to hold tools or components being assembled/disassembled or repaired. The fall arrest lanyard is a common element of the PPE used in fall arrest. It can be used as a tool to provide support whilst working on areas of risk by supporting the worker who can lean into the lanyard whilst working, therefore providing restraint and body support.

The predominant methodology of achieving shock-absorption properties is the use of sacrificial ‘tear webbing’ as a component of a total lanyard assembly. In such applications where a person uses the lanyard in ‘restraint technique or as tool of support’, the device will not deploy. This means that anyone can easily ‘lean’ into a lanyard and place their full body weight against the device at its full or adjusted length and there will be no effect on the lanyard.

The lanyard is designed to resist static energy up to approximately 200kg. A force of 200kg or greater is usually only applied to a lanyard should the worker fall providing a dynamic force in excess, at which point the device starts to deploy.

Despite this equipment being designed for the most extreme circumstances, there are additional work methods that, due to its ability to support a static load of up to 200kg, can be employed to ensure people are as safe as they can be when working at height.

Such work methods include:

  1. Working in restraint – this means operating equipment in a way that prevents a person from being exposed to a fall arrest risk.
  2. Working in restraint with the worker leaning into the lanyard often adjustable in length to provide support whilst using two hands to carry out His/her work
  3. Utilising Secondary Systems – sound work practice in both fall arrest and rope access demands that you should always have a primary means of access and a secondary, redundant system that acts as a back-up in the event the primary means fails.

It is important to note that training forms a vital part of all height safety work in terms of managing risks as well as knowing how to use the equipment as well as set up a safe system of work.

Like any tool, it is most effective when the user knows how to operate it properly, so it can achieve its intended purpose.

This point is especially true when that tool is an element of a fall protection system, since misuse of that equipment can lead to a serious injury or fatality, and costly damage to the equipment itself.

Fall protection has historically been a subject of much concern by Safe Work and others and falls are often leading cause of fatalities in the construction industry. Employers can, however, take steps to reduce fall injuries and fatalities by understanding how to properly design, implement and use fall protection systems.

For further information see web site www.waha.org.au or call Richard Millar Mobile 0477 788 04 EMail ceo@waha.org.au

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