Falls in the Workplace

by Dave Collins on May 13, 2015



Falls in the Workplace – Safe work at height rules update

clip_image001The newly revised model code of practice for Managing the Risk of Falls in the Workplace brings some serious implications: that people wearing a harness attached to a roof anchor on a single-storey (and many double-storey) buildings would hit the ground before their falls were arrested.

Height safety expert, Carl Sachs, explains all the implications in the story below:

Safe work at height rules update

by Carl Sachs, managing director, Workplace Access & Safety

More info: http://fireflymarketing.com.au/Media_Centre/WAS/Safe_work_at_height_rules_update

The extra risks associated with roof anchors on single-storey buildings has again been highlighted in the newly revised workplace falls model code of practice.

Safe Work Australia published a revision of the model Code of Practice, Managing the Risk of Falls at Workplaces (“Code”) in March.

Chief among the changes to the code are fall distances for harness use.

Fall distance for harness use explained

A worker wearing a harness attaches it to a shock absorber and lanyard system. During a fall, the shock absorber deploys and extends.

This extended distance is added to the person’s height, lanyard length and a safety factor, which allows for harness stretch.

Under the revised code, a person who falls can be expected to travel 6.5 metres before their fall is arrested. Effectively, that eliminates single-storey buildings and typical warehouses. Those around 6 to 8 metres high do not provide enough fall clearance if there are obstacles below like trucks or canopies. 

Using a technique of restraint, it is possible to use a harness-based system on a roof that is less than 6.5 metres from the ground safely but equally as easy to get it horribly wrong. Simply use the incorrect length lanyard on an anchor close to gutters, for example, and a system design intended to prevent any risk of fall can unravel in an instant – with fatal consequences.

Practical and commercial considerations and solutions

In fact, the Code points out that harness-based systems should only be used if it is not practicable to provide a barrier such as a guardrail.

In many cases, guardrail is the most practicable and commercial solution. Consider the lifetime costing of equipment and all of the administrative, inspection, maintenance and training requirements for anchor and static line based systems.

The code makes 34 references to rescuing people in harnesses and dedicates an entire section to suspension intolerance, highlighting the importance of having a second person on site and trained to implement a site-specific rescue plan, equipped with the right equipment.

Also known as toxic shock and suspension trauma, the risk of death is real, explain Dr Bill Wheems and Dr Phillip Bishop of the University of Alabama in “Will Your Safety Harness Kill You?

“Harnesses can become deadly whenever a worker is suspended for durations over five minutes in an upright posture, with the legs relaxed straight beneath,” the paper said.



Using higher-order controls like platforms, catwalks and guardrailing satisfies the legally powerful hierarchy of controls. Importantly, such passive height safety equipment reaps cost savings with lower lifetime costs, reduced administration and ready access for maintenance without the need for specialized height safety skills.

How the code and standards fit together

The Code offers practical guidance to reduce or eliminate the risk of falls. Workplaces that adopt the code methodology are deemed to have met their requirements under the regulations.

Australian Standards AS/NZS1891 (anchors and static lines) and AS1657 (Ladders, platforms, walkways, guardrailing) are referenced in the code. Deviating from them would need to be justified if an incident was examined in court. Document reasons for any deviation in a risk assessment, reviewing the likelihood and consequence of a fall, comparing the cost of safe and compliant control measures versus the cost of injury.

Standards are undated in codes of practice, ensuring that revisions to standards are always referenced. This is particularly relevant to AS1657, which was revised in 2013 and AS/NZS5532 (Anchors), which was published as an addition to AS/NZS1891 dealing with testing of anchorage points.

Code is the key to practical safety and compliance

The model Code of Practice, Managing the Risk of Falls at Workplaces, together with the Australian Standards it references, is a neat package.

Together, they spell out sensible height safety rules that make it clear how workplaces can increase the safety of workers at the lowest possible cost while minimizing legal liability.

It’s essential reading for any workplace with a roof that needs maintenance, especially if it’s less than 6.5 metres off the ground.

About the author:

Carl Sachs is managing director of fall prevention market leader, Workplace Access & Safety. He is the Technical Chair of working at height peak industry body, the Working at Height Association (WAHA).

A member of the Standards Australia committee for AS/NZS1891 (Fall arrests systems and devices), AS/NZS5532 (Anchor points) and, AS1657, Mr Sachs was involved in the drafting of the recently released standards.

Workplace Access & Safety has a NATA-accredited laboratory and four factories around Australia, providing complete service from fabrication through to installation and commissioning of anchors, guardrailing, static lines, platforms other access equipment to government, public and privately-owned companies nationally.

Workplace Access & Safety fabricates a fold-down guardrail system, which meets the based compliance requirements for level 2 systems, yet preserves building aesthetics.

Mr Sachs’ business is independently accredited by NATA for the testing of AS1657 equipment and AS/NZS 5532 safety anchors. Workplace Access & Safety manufactures and distributes the Defender brand of equipment, which includes ladders, staircases, specialized cooling tower platforms, suspended internal walkways, guard-railing and safety anchors. Defender products are the first to achieve AS1657:2013 and AS/NZS 5532 compliance under SAI Globals StandardsMark and the ABCB’s CodeMark schemes.

Mr Sachs is a registered and licensed commercial builder in all Australian states, providing government and corporate clients with a holistic approach to fall prevention from consultation all the way to construction and installation.  Carl can be contacted at carls@workplaceaccess.com.au or 1300 552 984.



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