Current at: 08 July 2011
Vic – Safe work at heights general obligations
This information sheet gives an overview of the basic rules to follow when working at heights in Housing Construction. Please note that there are different rules that apply for other construction. This information sheet is based on the Code of Practice for the Prevention of Falls in Housing Construction (WorkSafe Victoria). You should refer to this Code for details of acceptable safe practices.
Duties and Responsibilities
The builder (or principal contractor) is responsible for the overall management of fall protection. If a subcontractor provides any fall protection, the builder still needs to ensure that it is adequate. Subcontractors are also responsible for ensuring there is adequate fall protection for their employees and any subcontractors engaged by them.
Builders should ensure that:
- the contract takes into account any fall protection needs;
- fall hazards and the control measures to prevent a fall have been identified and documented in a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS);
- subcontractors are competent and understand the correct sequence of critical operations to be carried out on site;
- effective fall protection measures are implemented and are checked regularly to ensure that the measures are maintained.
subcontractors must ensure they:
- understand the extent of their responsibilities for fall protection;
- have all the information needed to do the job safely;
- have identified the fall hazards and control measures in a SWMS;
- have trained and instructed their employees on the fall protection measures;
- supervise and check regularly to ensure the measures are maintained.
Falls from more than 2 metres
Before work starts all tasks that may cause an employee or subcontractor to fall more than 2 metres must be identified and action must be taken to eliminate any risk of falling.
If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk of falling, it must be controlled so far as is reasonably practicable. The regulations set out a hierarchy of risk controls that must be applied. The hierarchy is:
Level 1: Undertake the work on the ground or on a solid construction
Level 2: Undertake the work using a passive fall prevention device
Level 3: Undertake the work using a work positioning system
Level 4: Undertake the work using a fall arrest system
Level 5: Undertake the work from ladders, or implement administrative controls
There are a number of exceptions for housing work that allow safe work methods to be applied in the specific circumstances detailed in the Code of Practice for the Prevention of Falls in Housing Construction (WorkSafe Victoria) without the need to apply the above hierarchy. For example:
Roofing work up to 3 metres
This work may be performed without physical fall protection if roof pitch is within the “critical angle” and there is a 2 metre “clear fall zone”. For further details regarding this exception refer to our OH&S Information Sheet titled Vic - Work on roofs up to 3 metres
WorkSafe have announced that from 01 August 2011 this control measure will no longer be acceptable. From this date external fall protection in the form of physical edge protection (eg guardrailing or perimeter scaffolding) should be provided if there is a risk of a fall from a height of two metres or more. For further information regarding this requirement go to the
Laying of sheet flooring and the construction and standing of second story wall frames may be performed up to 3.8 metres without physical fall protection. All openings in the frame, such as doors and windows, must have handrails and mid rails fitted as the frames are constructed. For further details of this and other exceptions refer to the Code of Practice for the Prevention of Falls in Housing Construction (WorkSafe Victoria).
Fall Protection measures
Level 1- Work on the ground or from solid construction
A solid construction must:
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- be able to safely carry all loads involved in the work. Any support props supporting suspended floors, formwork or similar must be marked with the safe working load. Timber supports must be designed for the specific load, secured at the top and bottom and tied to each other across and lengthwise to ensure a secure, free-standing structure;
- be non slip and free from trip hazards and not steeper than a 1 in 8 gradient. Cleated or grated surfaces should not be steeper than 1 in 3 gradient;
- have perimeter protection on exposed edges and additional void protection where required;
- have a safe means of entry and exit (step ladders or trestles should not be used for entry or exit)
Level 2 - Passive fall prevention devices.
are rated light (up to 225 kg per bay), medium (up to 450 kg per bay), or heavy duty (up to 675 kg per bay). These weights include the weight of any person (approx 80 kg) plus the weight of materials tools etc. For more information on scaffolds refer to our OH&S Information Sheet titled Vic - Guidelines for the safe use of scaffolding.
Elevating work platforms
. People working on travel towers, boom lifts or cherry pickers should wear a properly anchored safety harness. If boom length exceeds 11 m, operators must be licenced to operate the travel tower, boom lift or cherry picker.
Perimeter guard railing
should incorporate a top rail of 900 mm to 1100 mm above the working surface, a mid rail and toe board and must be of robust construction and be designed in accordance with AS 1657 or be constructed using the timber sizes and spans detailed in the code.
is sometimes appropriate for risk control of roofing works.
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Level 3 - Work positioning systems.
These enable a worker to be safely positioned and supported. They may include a Travel Restraint which prevents a worker from approaching an unprotected edge on a building. It usually consists of a safety harness connected by a lanyard to a suitable anchorage point or static line and must be carefully set up to avoid a free fall from happening. These systems are only recommended for short duration tasks, as they need high levels of user skill.
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Level 4 - Fall arrest systems
These include Safety Nets,which allow a worker maximum freedom of movement,and Catch platforms, which should incorporate a fully planked out deck. A Catch platform should be positioned as close as possible to the underside of the work area and in no case greater that 1 metre below the work area.
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Level 5 - Portable ladders
Ladders must be industrial grade, solid and stable and appropriate for the task. All ladders should be regularly checked for defects and repaired. A ladder should be set up to ensure that it cannot slip. Single and extension ladders must be placed at a slope of 4 to 1.
A ladder must not be used near a power line, placed in a driveway, used near an open floor or on scaffolding to gain extra height.
A person using a ladder should not overreach, use any tools that normally require two hands to operate, use tools that require a high degree of leverage (likely to cause over balancing), carry out work such as arc welding or oxy cutting, work over people or permit any other person on the ladder at any one time.
Unless there is appropriate fall protection in place, a person who uses a ladder should not face away from the ladder when going up or down or stand on a rung closer than 900 mm to the top of a single or extension ladder or stand higher than the second tread below the top plate of any step ladder.
Level 5 - Administrative controls
This is controlling the risk by setting out a safe work procedure that reduces a worker’s exposure to the risk of falling. Administrative controls can be used in combination with other fall prevention systems but if used as the only means of fall prevention it must be recorded e.g. in a Safe Work Method Statement.
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Code of Practice for the Prevention of Falls in Housing Construction (WorkSafe
HIA OH&S Information Sheet Vic - Work on roofs up to 3 metres
HIA OH&S Information Sheet Vic - Guidelines for the safe use of scaffolding
For further information, contact HIA on 1300 650 620
DISCLAIMER - The above is intended to provide general information in summary form. The contents do not constitute specific advice and should not be relied upon as such. Formal specific advice should be sought by members with respect to particular matters before taking action. © Copyright Housing Industry Association