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Edge protection and falls from heights

November 26, 2019

Falls continue to be a major cause of death and serious injury in Australian workplaces. They are also an ongoing priority for SafeWork NSW and WorkSafe ACT, and have featured in a number of member information session conducted by HIA during this year. Fall hazards are found when carrying out common tasks in the construction of a typical one or two storey house. They can also occur at ground level into holes, for example trenches or service pits.

There are a number of duty holders who have a role in managing the risk of falls in the workplace. These include: persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), typically the builder; designers; manufacturers; importers; suppliers; installers of plant or structures; and, officers.

Workers and other persons at the workplace also have duties under the WHS Act, such as the duty to take reasonable care for their own health and safety at the workplace. A person can have more than one duty and more than one person can have the same duty at the same time.

SafeWork NSW publishes Codes of Practice to help industry with compliance, including Managing the Risks of Falls in Housing Construction. There are also a number of risks that are not just specific to housing, but can be encountered on your worksite. These are covered in Managing the Risks of Falls at Workplaces.

In the context of residential construction, guardrails and edge protection systems are an effective way to manage risks of falls whilst working at height. The effectiveness of a guardrail system depends on:

  • Appropriate design
  • Manufacture in accordance with designer’s specifications
  • Test and examination after manufacture
  • Instructions supporting use and maintenance of the system
  • Correct installation by a competent person
  • Appropriate use
  • Handover Certificates.

Designers, manufacturers, suppliers and installers all have obligations for the guardrail system that is supplied. Users of the system, including Principal Contractors, employers, self-employed persons and workers also have obligations for how it is used and maintained.

The Codes of Practice listed above, describe that guardrails may be used to provide effective fall prevention as follows:

  • at the edges of roofs
  • at the edges of mezzanine floors, walkways, stairways, ramps and landings
  • on top of plant and structures where access is required
  • around openings in floor and roof structures
  • at the edges of shafts, pits and other excavations.

Guardrails should incorporate a top rail 900 mm to 1100 mm above the working surface, a mid-rail and a toe-board. The guardrail system, method of attachment and the supporting structure should be capable of withstanding the loads that will be applied.

The required load resistance will depend on the momentum of a falling person. For example, the momentum of a person falling from a pitched roof will increase as the pitch, that is, the angle, of the roof increases.

Detailed information is contained in AS/NZS 4994 (set)2: Temporary edge protection.

Call your HIA Workplace Advisor or HIA Safety Services on 1300 650 620 to discuss further.