Working at Heights Standards Announced

Ladder SafeWorking at heights continues to be a major contributor to work related injury and deaths in Australia.

Safework Australia reports that 274 workers died following falls from a height in the decade from 2003 to 2012.

In 2012, fatalities from falling from heights accounted for 13% or 29 workers’ deaths. While the construction industry accounted for one-third of fall-related fatalities in the last four years, another third of the workers fell to their death from a ladder.

However before we start blaming employers for this ladder death rate, let’s look at figures from the Australian  National Coroners Information System that say 85% of fatalities reported from ladder falls were non-work related. In fact they go on to show that 35% of these deaths were related to home maintenance duties. No surprise then that 95% of the reported fatalities are men. What is surprising is that the majority are over 50 years of age. Should know better?

The fact is, the construction industry on the main is extremely active in its height safety management and appropriate safe working methods. Building codes and Australian standards are now driving better behaviour around compliance performance, worker training and equipment management.

But would you believe it? There are no such standards or codes for building service and maintenance activities that follow on after the building is complete. Once in place there are no building codes, codes of practice (COP) or Australian Standards that Safety Concepts are aware of covering the design, installation and commissioning of access, maintenance and servicing equipment fitted during construction phase.

Most height safety systems are subject to the requirement of documented annual inspection and recertification by a competent person. Yet recent industry statistics show many aftermarket systems or those put in place at construction time do not pass audit.

The Working at Heights Association (WAHA) is currently developing an industry-based code of practice covering the design, installation and testing of new and existing installations. The association is looking towards Safe Work Australia to support the development of this COP and to support its adoption in the field.

The revised Australian Standard AS1657 for fixed ladders, platforms and walkways was released in October 2013. The biggest changes to AS1657 concern selection, labelling, guardrail testing and the design of fixed ladders.

The new standard deals with the selection of access methods. It explains when to use different types of access, adopting a hierarchical approach consistent with the OHS legislation.

The most significant set of changes to AS1657 concerns the design of fixed ladders. And this is where we see a gap 21 years since the standard was written, there has been an explosion in the sales of “cut to size” ladders, which led to several safety-related issues:

  • Rung spacing dimensions
  • Un-level landings
  • Uneven rung heights on ladders
  • Suitability of fixings
  • Hand holds security and potential safety hazards
  • Mounting methods for cages and structures
  • Lack of suitable design criteria
  • Use of fall arrest systems

The revised standard mandates permanent product labelling to verify compliance, identify the designer, fabricator, installer and certifier and provide for effective product recalls of faulty equipment

The new standard requires higher concentrated loads and line loads for guard railing systems. Importantly, it references standards to ensure the correct application of load factors and load combinations in the design and testing process.


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Safety Concepts is an online resource providing up to date insights and covering issues in the field of Workplace Safety.

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