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Working at heights in South Australia

The information below provides details on the requirements relating to working at heights in South Australia under the Work Health & Safety Act 2012.
What is high-risk construction activity?
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The definition of high-risk construction activities (Regulation 291) lists a number of activities including:

‘construction work that involves a risk of a person falling more than three metres’. 

Where high-risk construction activities will be required as part of building work, the Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) must in accordance with Regulation 299, before the activities commence, ensure that a risk assessment is carried out and that a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) for the proposed activity is prepared in consultation with the workers involved, and then made available for review as the work progresses. 

Risk assessment and Safe Work Method Statements
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The need for external and internal fall protection for construction activities undertaken less than three metres above the ground (e.g. single storey construction) must be based on a risk assessment.

For construction activities undertaken three metres or more above the ground, fall protection is mandatory. 

Based on the risk assessment, a SWMS must then be prepared for each activity that has been identified as a risk. A SWMS must

  • identify the high-risk activity 
  • specify the hazards and risks to health and safety associated with those hazards 
  • describe the measures to be implemented to control the risk 
  • describe how the control measures are to be implemented, monitored and reviewed. 

A SWMS must also be prepared taking into account all relevant matters including: 

  • circumstances on site that may affect the way in which the high-risk activity is carried out, and 
  • be set out and expressed in a way that is readily accessible and understandable to the persons required to work in accordance with the SWMS. 

A PCBU (including a sub-contractor) who is carrying out high-risk activities must put in place arrangements for ensuring that the activity is carried out in accordance with the applicable SWMS. 

If the work is proceedings not as set out in the SWMS, they must cease the activity as soon as possible to review the procedures. 

A SWMS for any high-risk activity must be reviewed as site conditions or hazards vary – and then be re-lodged with the Principal Builder (as required) prior to commencement of that activity. The Principal Builder needs to monitor the SWMS and inform the PCBU of any discrepancies or unsafe work practices. 

Who has a duty to manage risk of falls at heights?
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Regulation 78 requires that a PCBU must manage risk to health and safety associated with a fall by a person from one level to another that is reasonably likely to cause injury to the person or any other person. HIA encourages members to complete a risk assessment to identify the risk of falls with any building work. 

The PCBU must always provide safe means of access and egress to and from the workplace, which is particularly relevant to falls from heights, and where it is reasonably practicable work should be carried out on the ground or other solid workplace. 

If it is not practicable to work on the ground or solid workplace, which would eliminate the risk of a fall, then the PCBU must minimise the risk of a fall by providing adequate protection against the risk. 

What options can be used where a risk exists? 

Regulation 79 states that: 

Adequate protection includes maintaining safe systems of work including: 

  • providing fall prevention devices if it is reasonably practicable, or 
  • if it is not reasonably practicable by providing a work positioning system, or 
  • if not reasonably practicable to do the above, provide a fall arrest system. 

A safe system of work may include: 

  • providing temporary work platforms 
  • providing training in relation to the risks involved in work at the workplace 
  • providing safe work procedures, safe sequencing of work, safe use of ladders and appropriate signs. 

A fall prevention device may include: 

  • a secure fence 
  • edge protection 
  • working platforms 
  • covers. 

A work positioning system may include:

  • any plant or structure, other than a temporary work platform, that enables a person to be positioned and safely supported at a location for the duration of the relevant work. 

A temporary work platform may include: 

  • a fixed, mobile or suspended scaffold, or 
  • an elevated work platform, or 
  • a portable or mobile prefabricated platform, or 
  • any other temporary platform that provides a working area and is designed to prevent falls.
Determining who is competent to work at heights
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In developing safe systems of work for high-risk construction activities, PCBUs should consider only the use of competent people when working at heights that may cause injury. 

A competent person is defined as ‘a person who has acquired through training, qualifications or experience the knowledge and skills to carry out the task’. For instance, a carpenter or apprentice carpenter who has completed a recognised training course in roof framing generally receives training on the safe use of tools and equipment, working at heights and sequencing of the erection of roof trusses as part of that training. 

Subject to an appropriate amount of onsite experience, such as person would generally be regarded as a competent person and therefore able to work at heights. 

Assessing the risk when working on roofs
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One of the key factors to be considered when determining the types of risk control measures for work on roofs is the pitch of the roof. The critical angle is defined as the roof pitch below which it is considered that roof workers may reasonably be able to work and walk across the roof. 

PCBUs should determine the critical angle as part of their risk assessment. In no case should the critical angle be taken as greater than 26 degrees or 10 degrees where the presence or likelihood of surface moisture, oil or other conditions makes the roof slippery. 

Where workers are exposed to the risk of an external fall, consideration should also be given to the establishment of cleared exclusion zones around the perimeter of the building. 

Where cleared exclusion zones are relied on as part of the injury reduction measures, they should: 

  • extend two metres out from the edge of the gutter line 
  • be barricaded where there is a risk of other people entering the cleared exclusion zone 
  • be kept clear of all hard surfaces, impalement hazards including fences, vertical service pipes, starter bars, stumps, building materials such as brick pallets, timber, etc. 

Where the risk of a fall or the likely injury consequences from a fall are increased, then additional control measures should be implemented. 

A system of fall protection should be provided under any of the following circumstances:

  • where a worker is exposed to a fall
  • where a cleared exclusion zone cannot be established
  • where the cleared exclusion zones are no longer being maintained
  • the pitch of the roof is greater than the critical angle. 

To help keep your worksite safe, contact HIA's Safety solutions team.

Enquire now

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