21 Nov The Hierarchy Of Control When Working At Heights
Height safety is of the utmost importance for anybody who works at heights. Compliance with safe work practices ensures safety for all people working in the area as well as people from the general population who may be in or around the area. As working at heights can be risky, there is a specific OHS hierarchy of controls when working at heights to make sure height safety is adhered to.
This article explains the hierarchy of control when working at heights and breaks down the levels in this hierarchy. For personalised advice, contact our team at Australian Height Safety Services today.
The Hierarchy Of Controls
OHS (Occupational Health and Safety) hazards contain a hierarchy of controls that detail the order of risk control measures. When working at heights, we follow a five-level hierarchy of control. It aims to set out the order from most effective control measure to least, starting from elimination and leading to administrative controls.
It’s important to note that there are different ways of interpreting the system, with some people separating out these levels even further (into elimination, substitution, isolation, engineering controls, administrative controls, and protective personal equipment or PPE). Either way, the goal is to create a situation with as little risk as possible.
The National Code of Practice – Prevention of Falls in General Construction describes four factors to take into account in order to control hazards:
- The severity of the hazard or risk
- The state of knowledge
- The ways to mitigate or remove the hazard or risk
- The cost of mitigating or removing the hazard or risk
We’ve outlined the levels that we follow below. We’ve combined many aspects into each level, most notably engineering controls and administrative controls, to ensure a well-rounded approach to eliminate risks associated with working at heights.
Level 1: Undertake The Work On The Ground Or On A Solid Construction
The first step to consider when working at heights aims to eliminate the potential hazard altogether. When elimination isn’t possible, mitigation is to be considered next, such as using alternatives to working at heights.
The idea of level 1 in the hierarchy of controls is to perform the work at ground level. If this isn’t possible, performing the work on a solid construction is the next preferable option.
A ‘solid construction’ needs to have structural strength that can support people and materials, such as a scaffold or platform. It must have a non-slip surface, be free from potential trip hazards, and be at a readily negotiable gradient. A solid construction must also have edge and void protection (such as a guardrail) and have safe access and egress (such as via a ladder or stairway).
Level 2: Undertake The Work Using A Passive Fall Protection Device
If eliminating the hazard altogether isn’t an option, the next step is to use a passive fall protection device. This device will vary depending on the job being performed. Passive fall protection devices are covered under hazard engineering controls and include fixed or mobile scaffolds, roof safety mesh, cherry pickers, guardrails, and scissor lifts – height safety products that do not need to be altered once installed.
Level 3: Undertake The Work Using A Work Positioning System
If neither level 1 nor level 2 are practical or possible, it’s time to consider level 3 which is to perform the work using a work positioning system or personal protective equipment. These are a category of safeguards, such as industrial rope access systems and travel restraint systems. These harnesses can be attached to roof anchors or static lines or they can be harnesses with ropes and friction devices.
Users and supervisors alike need to undertake competency-based training in personal protective equipment prior to implementing level 3 safeguards.
Level 4: Undertake The Work Using A Fall Injury Prevention System
Fall injury prevention systems are different from work positioning systems, which they’re sometimes confused with. The difference is that work positioning systems aim to prevent the fall altogether, while fall injury prevention systems are designed to minimise the distance of any falls.
Fall injury prevention systems can include safety nets, catch platforms, and individual fall arrest systems (otherwise known as IFAS). Workers using IFAS must be specifically trained in this system, while all fall injury prevention systems need to be installed by those with specialist technical skills. Anybody working using an IFAS must never be left to work alone to ensure somebody else is there if the emergency plan needs to be activated.
Level 5: Undertake The Work From Ladders Or Implement Administrative Controls
Level 5 is a last resort for if the other control methods above cannot be implemented. Height safety encompasses ladders and procedures known as hazard administrative controls.
The reason these two separate things are grouped together in one level is because they are equal to each other in terms of controlling the risk of a fall. As these are poor control methods to handle the risk of a fall, ladders must be used correctly and administrative controls require stringent documentation.
Important Guidelines For Using the Hierarchy of Controls
While knowing and understanding the hierarchy is important, it does pose some risks. You may, for example, notice a level that is easy to implement in a particular situation (such as the use of personal protective equipment), so it may be tempting to implement that – and only that. The risk may be mitigated, but it doesn’t mean you’re optimising safety onsite. Ignoring the other levels, particularly those that may offer a better degree of protection, can have disastrous consequences.
Using a single method on its own may offer some control over workplace hazards, but it provides far less protection than harnessing all of the resources available to you. After all, workers working at heights deserve optimal protection at all times, and it’s your legal responsibility to create a safe working environment for them.
Ensure that you follow the hierarchy each and every time you are confronted with a job that requires working at heights. In many cases, you will be able to efficiently manage risk and eliminate hazards on various levels.
Contact Australian Height Safety Services for a Free Quote
Height safety is a crucial aspect both in business and in ensuring worker safety. By following the hierarchy of controls, you can mitigate risks posed by working at heights and doing everything you can to protect yourself and others. If you’re interested in learning more about the hierarchy of controls, from risk assessment and administrative controls to safety procedures and engineering controls, contact our team at Australian Height Safety Services for a free quote today.