Why is the regulation of falls important?

Falls from heights is one of the most common causes of work-related fatalities and serious injuries (including fractures, spinal cord injury, concussions and brain damages). Between July to December 2009, 14 of the 71 notified work-related fatalities in Australia resulted from falls from heights, occurring mainly in construction, manufacturing and mining workplaces1. Falls, trips and slips of a person also accounted for 21 per cent of serious workers’ compensations claims in 2007-2008 in Australia2 and 36 per cent of all major injuries in United Kingdom3. The extent of the problem highlights the importance of fall prevention obligations on duty holders in the workplace.

How are falls to be regulated?

Under the Model Work Health and Safety Act and the Model Work Health and Safety Regulations, there are onerous duties imposed on persons conducting the business or undertaking (PCBUs) for the prevention of falls. These duties include:

  • identifying all fall hazards associated with the business or undertaking
  • controlling the risks by applying the hierarchy of controls
  • keeping records of the administrative controls used for fall hazards over 2 metres
  • ensuring the suitability, fitness and maintenance of risk control measures
  • establishing emergency and rescue procedures to address fall hazards, and
  • reviewing implemented risk control measures under certain circumstances.

What are the key changes under the Model WHS laws?

Scope

For most jurisdictions, there will be a fundamental change in duty holders as the Model WHS laws are not restricted to employers and extend to PCBUs regardless of whether the person has any employees. In addition, the fall prevention obligations will extend to all industries. This has significant impact on jurisdictions such as Queensland which currently imposes the fall prevention obligations only in the construction industry. As a result, the fall prevention obligations will bring more industries under the regulatory scheme including occupations such as window cleaning, shelf stacking, gutter cleaning and roof work.

Height threshold

The fall prevention regulations in most current Australian jurisdictions only apply when there is a risk of fall of more than 2 metres4. The 2 metre height threshold is removed under the model WHS laws and therefore the fall prevention obligations are applicable for work conducted at any height. That is, no distinction is drawn in the Model WHS laws between falls from height and other falls. This change in requirement will broaden the scope of duty holders caught under the scheme.

Extended hierarchy of controls

The Model WHS Regulations adopt a hierarchy of controls with respect to controlling falls which closely follows the Victorian occupational health and safety regulatory provisions5. It requires PCBUs to implement control measures in the following order:

  • elimination of the risk by doing the work on the ground or a solid construction
  • passive fall prevention device such as scaffolding, work platforms, work box, safety mesh
  • work positioning system such as travel restraint system and industrial rope access system
  • fall arrest system to limit the impact of the fall such as catch platforms and safety nets
  • use of a ladder
  • administrative controls such as “no go” areas and signs to warn people of fall hazards, and
  • all other reasonably practicable risk control measures6

Where only administrative controls are used for fall hazards over 2 metres the Model WHS Regulations impose an additional obligation to make records. These records must specify what administrative controls are implemented and the reasons why risk control measures higher in the hierarchy cannot be used.

Additional obligations

There are additional obligations imposed on PCBUs under the Model WHS Regulations including the establishment of specific emergency procedures to address fall hazards and ensuring the control risk measures are suitable for the work and are maintained in good working order.

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