Safety while working at height



Article provided by the NZ Safety Council.

Under the Primary Duty of Care in the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, preventing falls from height is a requirement for all PCBU’s and they must ensure that work at height is actively managed so that people are not harmed.

A PCBU who manages or controls a workplace must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the workplace, the means of entering and exiting the workplace, and anything arising from the workplace are without risks to the health and safety of any person.
The key principles for managing risks on the worksite are:

  • (a) To eliminate risks to health and safety, so far as is reasonably practicable; and
  • (b)If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate risks to health and safety, to minimise those risks so far as is reasonably practicable.

Investigations by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment into falls while working at height show that more than 50 percent of falls are from less than three metres and approximately 70 percent of falls are from ladders and roofs.
Factors contributing to injuries sustained from working at height include:

  • Lack of or inadequate planning and hazard assessment
  • Inadequate supervision
  • Insufficient training for the task being carried out
  • Incorrect protection or equipment choices
  • Incorrect use or set-up of equipment including personal protective equipment
  • Unwillingness to change the way a task is carried out when a safer alternative is identified
  • Suitable equipment being unavailable.
  • More injuries happen on residential building sites than any other workplace in the construction sector.

Where there is potential for a fall from height then we should ask:

  • Can we eliminate the risk of working at height?
  • (This may be engineered into the job design at the planning stage, i.e. doing more of the work at ground level.)


If elimination is not practicable then steps should be taken to minimise the hazard so far as is reasonably practicable. This can be achieved using safe working platforms, guardrail systems, edge protection, scaffolding, elevated work platforms, mobile scaffolds, barriers to restrict access, safety harnesses, industrial rope access systems, soft landing systems etc.
A risk assessment shall be carried out for all work at height. It is essential that the hazards are identified before the work starts and that the necessary equipment, appropriate precautions and systems of work are provided and implemented.
If there is a potential for a person at work to fall from any height, all steps so far as are reasonably practicable must be taken to prevent harm from occurring.
Falls from height are most often caused by a failure to plan and organise work properly so we should always start by planning a safe work method before starting work.
The elimination of potential for falls from height should be considered early in the project development. Consider elimination through:

  • Safer design (locating plant at ground level; installing walkways with handrails; permanent guardrails or other forms of edge protection)
  • Using different work methods (prefabricating wall frames horizontally before standing them up; using precast tilt-up concrete construction instead of concrete walls constructed in situ; prefabricating structures on the ground or before installation and lifting them into position; pre-painting fixtures/roofs before installation)
  • Using specific tools and equipment (using long-handled tools eliminating the need to work from a ladder).

Where elimination is not possible then we need to look at minimising the risk by use of one or more of the following methods:

  • Using safe working platforms,
  • Guardrail systems,
  • Edge protection,
  • Scaffolding,
  • Elevated work platforms,
  • Mobile scaffolds,
  • Barriers to restrict access,
    Safety harnesses,
  • Industrial rope access systems,
  • Soft landing systems etc.

When we are making the decision about which method fall protection should be used in any given situation, we need to consider the duration and frequency of use that is to be undertaken.
Long duration, higher frequency work justifies a higher standard of fall protection, e.g. a tower scaffold rather than a ladder.
However, a ladder may be justified for short duration low-risk repetitive work.
We also need to take into account the need for rescue in the case of a fall. If rescue from a deployed fall arrest system is going to be difficult then we must choose another type of fall protection to use e.g. an Elevating Work Platform.

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