This article was first featured in My Renovation Magazine.
Despite on-going education, falls from a height remain a concern for the construction industry. WorkSafe Australia’s 2015 report shows that fatalities as a result of falls from a height over a 10-year period are by far the greatest industry hazard (29%) compared to other hazards such as contact with electricity. As this figure does not include unreported cases related to owner builders and people working on their own homes, the extent of injuries caused by falls from a height is expected to be greater. This is an issue that requires our attention.
Main Reasons Why Falls from a Height Still Happens
There are many factors that contribute to falls from a height on a job site. Broadly speaking, they can involve costs, lack of planning and attitude.
A task involving risk of falling often requires additional equipment such as the correct scaffolding, work platform or ladder to mitigate the risk. Unfortunately, costs associated with hiring of additional equipment and the time to set up the equipment often stops people from doing the right thing. One way to avoid budget blow out while adhering to safety standards is to have a good understanding of what it is required to carry out the task safely at the first place.
- Lack of planning due to impulsive decisions
Very often falls from a height occur, because people make impulsive and rushed decisions on the spot. For example, DIY / home handypersons do no usually have the tools and equipment that most builders and tradespeople might have. Consequently, home handypersons are generally quite good at improvising to get the job done. In my career I have seen all manner of “improvisations” ranging from putting ladders on planks between wheelie bins to standing on the top run of ladders that are too short for the job. Although there were no injuries at the time that I witnessed these practices, it is a numbers game. The time will come when unsafe practices lead to severe injuries. And for some unfortunately, it has been too late.Lack of planning due to impulsive decisions not only often results in poor job quality, it also increases one’s chance of getting injured. Planning ahead or more importantly knowing when to stop and plan again is very important.
- “It will never happen to me” attitude
The “it will never happen to me” attitude, also known as the “macho” attitude, is a natural human psychological response for majority of us when it comes to risk-taking and unsafe behaviours. This psychological response is often rewarded. For example, most unsafe behaviours did not result in injuries and near-misses are often rewarded with time saved or convenience. Consequently, people develop the “it will never happen to me” attitude. One way to combat this macho attitude is to understand that the potential impact of an injury as a result of unsafe behaviours is far significant than the time or money saved by taking short cuts.
How to Prevent Falls from a Height Happening
- Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS)
For tradespeople, taking the time to do a SWMS for a high risk activity is an important step towards preventing falls from a height. A SWMS will highlight risks and control measures to allow proper planning for task to be carried out safely. This is something that DIY / home handypersons can adopt as well.
- Know high risk activities that may result in falls from a height
Certain construction activities are high risk in nature. Measures should be taken to minimise potential dangers associated with these high risk activities. Preventative workshops prior to undertaking high risk activities and using the right tools and equipment are just some of the examples that people can do to improve job safety.
- Be organised and practice discipline
Be organised and keep a job site clean is fundamental to job safety. For example, if a construction site is organised and accessible, the need for tradespeople to set up ladders and scaffolding is minimise; consequently, less chance for a fall from a height to take place.
- Know the correct working method
When it comes to working with height, make sure the correct method for working at height is adopted for the task. For instance, if the task to be carried out requires a tradesperson to use both hands then a scaffold instead of a ladder is required.
Take Home Messages
- Falls from a height is an issue that the construction industry faces every day.
- While it is tempting to save time or money by not following the safety procedure, the consequence of a fall related injury can be very significant and devastating.
- There are many ways that one can adopt to reduce the risk of a fall from a height and these strategies range from having a right attitude to knowing the correct working method.
- It is important to remember that the tradesperson who is carrying out the job is responsible for assessing the site for safety and for preparing a site specific Safe Work Method Statement or SWMS, if required.
- A site manager should always provide support by ensuring the SWMS is properly done and that required control measures for the task are in place.
- For home owner builders, always seek advice from qualified specialists or industry associations when in doubt.
- Always remember, time or money saved is never worth the risk if a fall from a height does indeed occur.
About the author
To connect with Ben Morris, visit his bio here.