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Working at height continues to represent a major safety management challenge for most workplace health and safety professionals; however, increasingly it is not just ‘people falls’ that are an issue.


total of 275 people died as a direct consequence of a fall from a height in the period 2003 to 2012 in Australia; around 11% of total fatalities. Surprisingly, however, an additional 227 people died in the same period as a consequence of being hit by a falling object - about 9% of total fatalities.** Aside from fatalities, drops and falls also represent a significant volume of general injuries. Falls from a height represented over 7400 workers compensation claims in 2012, with a median lost time of 7.2 weeks. Additionally, over 4200 claims were recorded from injuries created by falling objects, with a median lost time of 4.2 weeks.*** Given that these two mechanisms of injury are the third- and fourth-ranked cause of death and significant causes of injury, the question is, are these inevitable? Or indeed, with the right approach, are they preventable? I believe that most would answer yes, provided there is sufficient education, awareness and safety management systems in operation. The prospect of reducing these incidents is therefore very high.

The cost of drops The cost of lost time in both health outcomes for workers and lost productivity time is concerning. Importantly, it is also the workers’ families that bear the brunt of the impact of these injuries, through loss of income and medical expenses that may follow from the incident. In addition, the loss of the items themselves can be costly. If objects are dropped down holes, over water, into mud, machinery and other difficult-to-reach places, they are effectively a sunk cost needing replacement. While anyone can drop a tool, the chances are vastly increased when other environmental factors come into play. For example, high wind, rain, greasy environments and even working with ill-fitting gloves can make the challenge of tool security an issue. For a comparatively low cost and a different attitude to containment, these costs can be avoided.

Using gravity as a work aid Certain job tasks and industries use ‘gravity’ to work for them. For example, the demolition of a building might allow for materials to be dropped to a lower level using gravity means, rather than a controlled mechanical descent process such as a crane and debris bucket. Many buildings are also clad in protective mesh or netting to contain debris and prevent it from causing injury or escaping from the building envelope. In most cases, these work methods are less safe than alternatives. They rely on the principle of containment, rather than prevention of falls in the first place. On most major metropolitan worksites, the incidence of this is thankfully infrequent. In locations where there is less supervision or no regulator present, the same cannot be said.

Hierarchy of Control Risk management, utilising the principle of the Hierarchy of Control, is considered to be the best approach to preventing injury. Engineering a hazard out altogether or utilising alternative means of access to minimise fall risks is best practice. Wherever possible, preventing the fall of a person or tools through the use of guarding or barriers is the most appropriate means of protection possible as they remove the fall of people or objects altogether in the first place. Only when there are no alternative means of prevention should fall protection equipment, including fall protection for tools and equipment, be considered for use.

Primary vs secondary consequence When people consider the use of fall protection equipment, they are primarily concerned about protecting themselves or their workers and contractors. Items such as anchoring devices (A), full-body safety harnesses (B), a fall arrest lanyard or selfretracting lifeline to connect between the two (C) and some defined rescue means to allow for safe descent (D) are the core


Profile for Westwick-Farrow Media

Safety Solutions Jun/Jul 2015  

Launched in April 2003, this bi-monthly magazine provides vital information on safety products and services in the industrial, construction,...

Safety Solutions Jun/Jul 2015  

Launched in April 2003, this bi-monthly magazine provides vital information on safety products and services in the industrial, construction,...