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Working at Heights
Working at Heights

This chapter is sponsored by Novatech Creative Event Technology


(Revised 20 November 2017)

Working at height is categorised as ‘high risk’ work and will require some serious thought before work starts. Working at height is very common in the entertainment industry across all sectors and all departments.

There are two parts about working at height: a person falling and objects being dropped.

8.1 Referenced documents

Code of Practice – “Managing the risk of falls at workplaces”

Code of Practice – “First Aid in the Workplace”

AS 2550.10 – Cranes, hoists and winches – Safe use – Mobile elevating work platforms

AS/NZS 1891 – Industrial fall-arrest systems and devices

AS/NZS 1892 Portable ladders

AS 2359.1:2015 – Powered industrial trucks – General requirements

8.2 Definitions

8.2.1 Falls

Where there is a risk of a fall by a person from one level to another that is reasonably likely to cause injury.

This is an area where a lot of confusing assumptions are made. To be clear, under the Model WHS legislation there is no set height at which a fall can be deemed dangerous. Forget about the ‘2 metre’ rule, every difference in level must be reviewed as a potential risk within the work environment. Control measures are needed where there is a risk of injury irrespective of fall height.

8.2.2 Risk of a fall

means a circumstance that exposes a worker while at work, or other person while
at or in the vicinity of a workplace, to a risk of a fall that is reasonably likely to cause injury to the worker or other person. This includes circumstances in which the worker or other person is:

  • in or on plant or a structure that is at an elevated level
  • in or on plant that is being used to gain access to an elevated level
  • in the vicinity of an opening through which a person could fall
  • in the vicinity of an edge over which a person could fall
  • on or in the vicinity of a surface through which a person could fall
  • on or near the vicinity of a slippery, sloping or unstable surface.

8.2.3 Falling objects

Objects have the potential to fall onto or hit people at the workplace or adjoining areas if precautions are not taken. Adjoining areas could include a public footpath, road, square or the yard of a dwelling or other building beside a workplace. Equipment, material, tools and debris that can fall or be released sideways or upwards are also considered falling objects.

8.3 Falls at the workplace

8.3.1 Who has health and safety duties in relation to falls?

A person conducting a business or undertaking has the primary duty under the WHS Act to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, that workers and other persons are not exposed to health and safety risks arising from the business or undertaking.

A PCBU has more specific obligations under the WHS Regulations to manage the risk of a fall by a person from one level to another, including requirements to:

  • ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that any work involving the risk of a fall is carried out on the ground or on a solid construction
  • provide safe means of access to and exit from the workplace
  • minimise the risk of falls so far as is reasonably practicable by providing a fall prevention device, work positioning system or a fall arrest system.

Workers have a duty to take reasonable care for their own health and safety and that they do not adversely affect the health and safety of other persons. Workers must comply with any reasonable instruction given by the person conducting the business or undertaking.


8.4.1 What is required to manage the risk of falls?

Regulation 34-38: In order to manage risk under the WHS Regulations, a duty holder must:
– identify reasonably foreseeable hazards that could give rise to the risk
– eliminate the risk so far as is reasonably practicable
– if it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk – minimise the risk so far as is reasonably practicable by implementing control measures in accordance with the hierarchy of control
– maintain the implemented control measure so that it remains effective
– review, and if necessary revise, risk control measures so as to maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a work environment that is without risks to health and safety.

8.4.2 How to identify fall hazards

You must identify all locations and tasks that could cause injury due to a fall. This includes access to the areas where work is to be carried out. Tasks that need particular attention are those carried out:

  • on any structure or plant being constructed or installed, dismantled, inspected, tested, repaired or cleaned
  • using equipment to work at the elevated level (for example, when using elevating work platforms or portable ladders)
  • near a hole, shaft or pit into which a worker could fall (for example, orchestra pit, stage lift, stage edge).

8.4.3 Inspect the workplace

Walk around the workplace to find out where work is carried out that could result in falls. A checklist may be useful in this process. Key things to look for include:

  • surfaces:
    • the stability, fragility or brittleness – temporary stages, set construction, etc.
    • the potential to slip, for example where surfaces are wet, polished or glazed
    • the safe movement of workers where surfaces change
    • the strength or capability to support loads
    • the slope of work surfaces, for example, where they exceed 7 degrees.
  • levels—where levels change and workers may be exposed to a fall from one level to another
  • structures—the stability of temporary or permanent structures
  • the ground—the evenness and stability of the ground for safe support of scaffolding or a work platform
  • the working area—whether it is crowded or cluttered
  • entry and exit from the working area
  • edges—protection for open edges of stage floors, working platforms, walkways or catwalks.
  • holes, openings or excavations—which will require guarding
  • hand grip—places where hand grip may be lost.

In some situations, advice may be needed from technical specialists, such as structural engineers, to check the stability of structures or load bearing capacity. Specifically when using EWP’s on non-solid ground it will be critical to determine the work surface can handle the point loads of the EWP wheels and/or outriggers.

8.4.4 How to assess the risk

A risk assessment will help you determine:

  • what could happen if a fall did occur and how likely it is to happen
  • how severe a risk is
  • whether any existing control measures are effective
  • what action you should take to control the risk
  • how urgently the action needs to be taken.

A risk assessment is unnecessary if you already know the risk and have systems in place to control it.

8.4.5 Generic risk assessment

If you are responsible for a number of different work areas or workplaces and the fall hazards are the same, you may perform a single (or generic) risk assessment. However, you should carry out a risk assessment on individual fall hazards if there is any likelihood that a person may be exposed to greater, additional or different risks.

For more details about risk assessments, see Chapter 2 “Risk Management and Planning”

8.5 How to control the risk

There are a number of ways to control the risks of falls. Some control measures are more effective than others. Control measures can be ranked from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest. This ranking is known as the hierarchy of control. The WHS Regulations require duty holders to work through this hierarchy to choose the control that most effectively eliminates or minimises the risk in the circumstances. This may involve a single control measure or a combination of two or more different controls.

In managing the risks of falls, the WHS Regulations require the following specific control measures to be implemented, where it is reasonably practicable to do so:

  • Can the need to work at height be avoided to eliminate the risk of a fall?
  • Carry out any work that involves the risk of a fall on the ground. For example lower a bar or a truss to fix or change equipment rather than working from a ladder.
  • Can the fall be prevented by working on solid construction?
  • A building or structure that is used as an existing place of work and includes safe access and egress from which there is no risk of a fall from one level to another, for example properly constructed stairs with fixed handrails, flat roofs with a parapet or permanently installed guard rails around the edges.

It is usually not necessary to implement additional control measures to manage the risk of falls for workplaces in buildings that already comply with the requirements of the National Construction Code of Australia, for example in relation to stairs, mezzanines and balconies.

  • Can the risk of a fall be minimised by providing and maintaining a safe system of work, including:
  • providing a fall prevention device (for example, installing guard rails) if it is reasonably practicable to do so, or
  • providing a fall-arrest system, so far as is reasonably practicable, if it is not reasonably practicable to provide a fall prevention device.

In some cases a combination of control measures may be necessary, for example using a safety harness while working from an elevating work platform.

8.5.1 Implementing and maintaining control measures

Regulation 37 You must ensure that the control measures you implement remain effective. This includes checking that the control measures are fit for purpose; suitable for the nature and duration of the work; are installed and used correctly.

To allow the chosen control measures to operate effectively, you should:

  • develop Standard Operating Procedures on how to correctly implement and maintain the control measure. The procedures should include a planned program of inspections and maintenance for the control measures. The inspection regime should include details of:
    • the equipment to be inspected (including its unique identification)
    • the frequency and type of inspection (pre-use checks, detailed inspections)
    • action to be taken on finding defective equipment
    • means of recording the inspections
    • training of users
    • the system of monitoring the inspection regime to verify that inspections are carried out appropriately.

The manufacturer and/or supplier of the equipment should be consulted for any product specific requirements. If any signs of wear or weakness are found during the inspection, the components or means of attachment must be withdrawn from use until they are replaced with properly functioning components.

  • provide information, training and instruction to workers, including procedures for emergency and rescue. You should also cover:
    • the type of control measures used to prevent falls
    • procedures for reporting fall hazards and incidents
    • the correct selection, fitting, use, care, inspection, maintenance and storage of fall-arrest and restraint equipment
    • the correct use of tools and equipment used in the work (for example, using a tool belt instead of carrying tools)
    • control measures for other potential hazards (for example, electrical hazards).

    provide supervision by ensuring that workers exposed to a risk of a fall are adequately supervised by a competent person, especially if they are undergoing training or are unfamiliar with the working environment. Check that:

    • only workers who have received training and instruction in relation to the system of work are authorised to carry out the work
    • workers use the fall control measure in the correct manner.


More detail about eliminating or controlling falls in the workplace, download the Model Code of Practice “Managing the risk of falls at workplaces

8.6 Plant

8.6.1 Elevating work platforms

Elevating Work Platforms (EWPs) include scissor lifts, cherry pickers, boom lifts and travel towers. There are battery powered and internal combustion engine types. Some are designed for hard flat surfaces only, while others are designed to be operated on rough terrain.

Safety considerations include that:

  • workers operating the platform are trained and instructed in safe operating procedures for the particular brand and type of equipment, as well as the safe use of fall-arrest equipment and emergency rescue procedures
  • the platforms are only used as working platforms and not as a means of entering and exiting a work area unless the conditions set out in AS 2550.10 Cranes, hoists and winches – Safe use – Mobile elevating work platforms are met
  • unless designed for rough terrain, the platforms are used only on a solid level surface
  • the surface area is checked to make sure that there are no penetrations or obstructions that could cause uncontrolled movement or overturning of the platform
  • the manufacturer’s or supplier’s instructions are consulted for information on safe operation
  • persons working in boom lifts or cherry pickers wear a properly anchored safety harness
  • workers are licensed when operating boom-type elevating work platforms with a boom length of 11 metres or more.
Figure 1: An example of a boom-type elevating work platform. The safety harness and lanyard assembly are not shown for purposes of clarity. The lanyard should be as short as possible fall restraint type and must be attached directly to the designated anchor point on the EWP, not to the handrail. Do not use a fall arrest lanyard in a boomlift. Figure 2: An example of a scissor-lift elevating work platform. NOTE: When working inside the confinement of the EWP no harness or fall arrest lanyard are required.

8.6.2 Forklifts with a work box

A workbox fitted to a forklift must be securely attached to the forklift carriage and engineer-designed and constructed in accordance with AS 2359 Powered Industrial Trucks (see Figure 3).

Safety considerations include that:

  • people are not raised on the tynes of forklift trucks or the pallet
  • no other device (for example, ladder or pallets) is used to gain additional height
  • the safety gate is self-locking and kept shut when in the elevated position.
Figure 3: An example of an engineer-designed workbox with safety harness and lanyard assembly, correctly positioned on the forklift tynes. Figure 4: Using a forklift as a working platform or to gain extra height by standing
on the tynes or a pallet is an unacceptable practice.

8.6.3 Restraint technique

A restraint technique controls a person’s movement by physically preventing the person reaching a position at which there is a risk of a fall. It consists of a harness that is connected by a lanyard to an anchorage or horizontal life line. It must be set up to prevent the wearer from reaching an unprotected edge (see Figure 6).

Figure 6: Restraint technique options.

A restraint technique is suitable for use where:

  • the user can maintain secure footing without having to tension the restraint line and without the aid of any other hand hold or lateral support. When deciding whether secure footing can be maintained, consider:
    • the slope of the surface
    • the supporting material type
    • the surface texture of the surface and whether it is likely to be wet, oily or otherwise slippery
  • the horizontal life lines are fitted with an industrial shock absorber when required
  • the restraint system conforms with AS/NZS 1891 Industrial fall-arrest systems and devices

Restraint techniques should only be used if it is not reasonably practicable to prevent falls by providing a physical barrier (for example, a guard rail). This is because restraint techniques require a high level of user skill to operate safely and also greater supervision.

A restraint system should be installed by a competent person in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Restraint anchorage should be designed for fall-arrest loading.

An individual fall-arrest system should be used instead of restraint techniques if any of the following situations apply:

  • the user can reach a position where a fall is possible
  • the user has a restraint line that can be adjusted in length so that a free fall position can be reached
  • there is a danger the user may fall through the surface, for example fragile roofing material
  • the slope is over 15 degrees
  • there is any other reasonably likely use or misuse of the system that could lead to a free fall.

8.7 Fall-Arrest Systems

A fall-arrest system is intended to safely stop a worker falling an uncontrolled distance and reduce the impact of the fall. This system must only be used if it is not reasonably practicable to use higher level controls or if higher level controls might not be fully effective in preventing a fall on their own.

All equipment used for fall-arrest should be designed, manufactured, selected and used in compliance with the AS1891 series of standards.

Key safety considerations in using fall arrest systems are:

  • the correct selection, installation and use of the equipment
  • that the equipment and anchorages are designed, manufactured and installed to be capable of withstanding the force applied to them as a result of a person’s fall
  • that the system is designed and installed so that the person travels the shortest possible distance before having the fall stopped
  • that workers using a fall-arrest system wear adequate head protection to protect them in the event of a fall
  • that if the equipment has been used to arrest a fall it is not used again until it has been inspected and certified by a competent person as safe to use.

8.7.1 Individual fall-arrest systems

Individual fall-arrest systems consist of some or all of the following components:

  • anchorages
  • lifelines
  • inertia reel
  • lanyard of fixed length
  • retractable lifelines
  • rope grabs
  • wire grabs
  • rail system
  • shock absorbers, both personal and industrial
  • harness
  • snap hooks (double or triple action to prevent rollout)
  • karabiners (double or triple action to prevent rollout)
  • rescue equipment.

Individual fall-arrest systems rely on workers wearing and using them correctly, and therefore workers who will use such a system must be trained in its safe use. They should only be used where it is not reasonably practicable to use higher level control measures.

Relevant Australian/New Zealand Standards for personal fall-arrest equipment require that they be permanently marked or labelled to indicate their purpose, correct use, limitations and other relevant information aimed at reducing misuse of the equipment.

8.7.2 Anchorage points

Each anchorage point should comply with the requirements in AS/NZS 1891:4 Industrial fall-arrest systems and devices – selection, use and maintenance.

All anchorages should be tested and approved by a competent person before use—a visual inspection may not reveal the structural integrity of the anchor point (i.e. the bolt may have failed below the concrete surface).

Each anchorage point should be located so that a lanyard of the system can be attached to it before the person using the system moves into a position where the person could fall.

Inspect the system components

Each component of the system and its attachment to an anchorage must be inspected by a competent person:

  • after it is installed but before it is used
  • at regular intervals
  • immediately after it has been used to arrest a fall.

Inspection of all components should be conducted in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications and the relevant standards. If any signs of wear or weakness are found during the inspection, the components or means of attachment should be withdrawn from use until they are replaced with properly functioning components.

8.7.3 Limit free fall distance

Fall-arrest systems, incorporating a lanyard, should be installed so that the maximum distance a person would free fall before the fall-arrest system takes effect is two metres. There should be sufficient distance between the work surface and any surface below to enable the system, including the action of any shock absorber to fully deploy (see Figure 21). To work out whether there is enough distance available, you should take into account:

  • the worker’s height
  • the height and position of the anchorage point
  • the length of the lanyard
  • any slack in the horizontal life line
  • any stretching of the lanyard or horizontal life line when extended by a fall
  • the length of the energy absorber when extended by a fall.

Total fall distance before this particular configuration would be effective in arresting
a fall is 6.5m.

Lanyards should not be used in conjunction with inertia reels as this can result in an excessive amount of free fall prior to the fall being arrested.

8.7.4 Use suitable harnesses

In most cases, a full body harness should be worn. Harnesses must be correctly fitted. Workers should connect the fall-arrest line to the attachment point on their harness (dorsal attachment point or the chest connection) that will provide the best protection in the situation it is being used. Consideration should be given to the potential fall distance, potential impact with the structure, body position after a fall and the need to interact with equipment such as rope-grabs.

8.7.5 Maintain minimum of slack in fall-arrest lanyard

There should be a minimum of slack in the fall-arrest lanyard between the user and the attachment. The anchorage point should be as high as the equipment permits. Avoid work above the anchor point, as this will increase the free fall distance in the event of a fall, resulting in higher forces on the body and greater likelihood of the lanyard snagging on obstructions.

8.7.6 Use inertia reels correctly

When considering the use of inertia reels, bear in mind that they might not be effective in certain situations. For example, if a worker falls down the inclined surface of a steeply pitched roof, the inertia reel line may keep extending from the reel—it may not lock.

Inertia reels should not be used as working supports by locking the system and allowing it to support the user during normal work. They are not designed for continuous support.

8.7.7 Use compatible components

The use of non-compatible components may lead to ‘roll-out’ with some hook/karabiner configurations, resulting in injury or death to the user. The hazard cannot always be avoided by using components produced by the same manufacturer under the one brand name. If you are unsure whether components of a fall-arrest system are compatible you should contact the manufacturer for further information.

Snap hooks should be of the double action type, requiring at least two consecutive deliberate actions to open. Snap hooks should not be connected to each other as this could prevent the safe operation of the snap hook (for example, roll-out may occur). Some double action hooks are susceptible to roll-out. Screw gate karabiners or hex nut connectors may sometimes be appropriate. Further guidance is provided in AS/NZS 1891 Industrial fall-arrest systems and devices.

Roll-out on a small diameter eyebolt

8.7.8 Ensure prompt rescue in event of fall

A person conducting a business or undertaking who implements a fall-arrest system as a control measure must establish emergency and rescue procedures. The rescue of a worker who is suspended in a full body harness must occur promptly to prevent suspension intolerance.

A worker should not use a fall-arrest system unless there is at least one other person on the site who can rescue them if they fall.

For more details, see Section 8.8 Emergency Procedures for Falls

8.7.9 Hazards with individual fall-arrest systems

If a person using an individual fall-arrest system falls, the system may act as a pendulum, and in some situations the user may hit the ground (called ‘swing down’: see Figure 7) or swing back onto the building or structure (which is called ‘swing back’: see Figure 8).

Swing down can occur if the lanyard slides back along the perimeter edge of the roof until it is vertical. When this happens, the person may hit the ground, or the lanyard may break as a result of its contact with the edge of the roof. Measures to address ‘swing down’ include:

  • the installation of guard rails
  • placing the anchorage point at a right angle to the position of the lanyard at the perimeter edge (for example, by using a mobile anchorage)
  • the installation of a second anchorage point and belay devices (intermediate anchorages).
Figure 7: During ‘swing down’ the length of the lanyard and positioning of the anchor allow contact with the ground. Figure 8: During ‘swing back’ the length of the lanyard and positioning of the anchor contact may allow the worker to hit the structure.

8.7.10 Anchorage lines or rails

Anchorage lines or rails are temporary or permanent fall-arrest systems, which can be installed
to provide continuous fall protection for persons using ladders or climbing towers. These can
be used on plant, such as tower cranes, as well as buildings or structures.

Safety considerations include that:

  • temporary systems comply with the AS/NZS 1891 series of standards
  • the locking device is attached to the frontal attachment point of the harness and the lanyard assembly is a maximum of 300 mm length
  • the point of connection onto the ladder by the climber is near the base of the ladder to allow the connection before ascending begins and also to provide continuous connection to the disconnecting point when at a safe higher level
  • free fall is limited to a maximum of 600 mm
  • permanent systems are of wire or rail construction and are installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions

After a fall, remove the system from service and have it inspected by a competent person before it is used again.

8.7.11 Double lanyards

An alternative to anchorage lines or rails is the use of a double lanyard (also known as a twin tail or ‘Y’ lanyard). Figure 26 shows how the use of a double lanyard means that the person climbing can always be connected to the ladder or structure.

However, double lanyards are easy to misuse—there should be no back hooking, they should not be wrapped around the body or passed between the legs, the chest connection should never be higher than the highest attachment point, they are not suitable for frequent use (because of possible misuse or muscle injury) and the ladder or structure points must be capable of arresting forces generated by a fall with the double lanyard. Adequate training should be provided on their use.

Figure 9: Left: An example of a double lanyard.
These must have double action connectors.

Person climbing with a double lanyard. Note that in this application the connectors will slide down to the lowest point on the rail and likely be subject to side loading. Side loading can be controlled by using soft connections such as slings or the use of hooks rated to withstand side loading.


Ladders are primarily a means of access and egress. Many falls take place when people are working from ladders. In addition, when using a ladder:

  • the working width and movement is limited
  • the time involved in moving and setting up ladders is often underestimated when planning work
  • the working position on ladders is often uncomfortable (the need to stretch sideways, work above shoulder height and stand on narrow rungs for a long time) and may cause musculoskeletal disorders.

For these reasons, you should consider whether an elevating work platform or scaffolding would be safer and more efficient.

8.8.1 Portable ladders

Extension or single ladders should generally only be used as a means of access to or egress from a work area. They should only be used as a working platform for light work of short duration that can be carried out safely on the ladder.

8.8.2 Selecting ladders

If ladders are used they must be selected to suit the task to be undertaken. In doing this, you should consider the duration of the task, the physical surroundings of where the task is to be undertaken and the prevailing weather conditions.


Ladders should have a load rating of at least 120 kg and be manufactured for industrial use.

8.8.3 Positioning ladders

Any ladder used at a workplace must be set up on a solid and stable surface, and set up so as to prevent the ladder from slipping. Single and extension ladders can be prevented from slipping by:

      • placing ladders at a slope of 4:1, and setting up stepladders in the fully opened position
      • securing ladders at the top or bottom, or if necessary, at both ends.

8.8.4 Access or egress

Where fixed or extension ladders are used for access or egress, you should check that:

      • there is a firm, stable work platform, free from obstructions, to step onto from the ladder
      • the ladder extends at least one metre above the stepping-off point on the working platform
      • fall protection is provided at the stepping-off point where people access the working platform.

8.8.5 Safe Use of Ladders

When a ladder is used, you should check that:

      • the ladder is in good condition—the ladder should be inspected for faults, such as broken rungs, stiles and footing before it is used
      • damaged ladders are removed from service
      • the ladder is set up on firm, stable and level ground
      • the ladder is the correct height for the task to avoid reaching or stretching
      • the ladder is not too close or too far from the support structure—the distance between the ladder base and the supporting structure should be about one metre for every four metres of working ladder height (4:1 ratio)
      • the ladder is secured against displacement (i.e. slipping or sliding) and/or there is another person holding the base of the ladder (AKA ‘footing’)
      • the ladder is not placed so that the weight of the ladder and any person using the ladder
        is supported by the rungs
      • all the locking devices on the ladder are secure
      • materials or tools are not carried while climbing the ladder—use a tool belt or side pouch
      • only light duty work is undertaken while on the ladder, where three points of contact can
        be maintained and tools can be operated safely with one hand
      • slip resistant base, rungs or steps are provided
      • slip resistant shoes are worn
      • ladders are not used without additional appropriate precautions:
        • in access areas or doorways—if necessary, erect a barrier or lock the door shut
        • on scaffolding or an elevating work platform to get extra height
        • next to power lines unless the worker is trained and authorised and the appropriate ladder is being used
        • in very wet or windy conditions
        • next to traffic areas, unless the working area is barricaded.

8.8.6 When using ladders, it is not safe to:

      • use metal or metal reinforced ladders when working on live electrical installations
      • carry out work such as arc welding or oxy cutting
      • work over other people
      • allow anyone else to be on the ladder at the same time.

Except where additional and appropriate fall protection equipment is used in conjunction with the ladder, it is not safe to:

      • use a stepladder near the edge of an open floor, penetration or beside any railing
      • over-reach (the centre of the torso should be within the ladder stiles throughout the work)
      • use tools that require a high degree of leverage force which, if released, may cause the user to over-balance or fall from the ladder, such as pinch bars
      • face away from the ladder when going up or down, or when working from it
      • stand on a rung closer than 900 mm to the top of a single or extension ladder
      • stand higher than the second tread below the top plate of any stepladder (with the exception of three-rung step ladders).

Guidance on the selection, safe use and care of portable ladders is set out in AS/NZS 1892 Portable ladders series. The manufacturer’s recommendations on safe use should also be followed.


8.8.7 Fixed ladders

Fixed ladders should be installed in accordance with AS 1657 Fixed Platforms, Walkways, Stairways and LaddersDesign, Construction and Installation.

Ladder cages in fixed ladders do not stop a fall but simply funnel a fall and, in some cases, more injuries can occur from striking the protective backguards on the way down. The cages may also hinder rescues. Therefore, fixed ladders with angles exceeding 75 degrees to the horizontal
should be fitted with a permanent or temporary fall-arrest system (anchorage lines or rails).

The angle of slope should not be less than 70 degrees to the horizontal and not greater than
75 degrees to the horizontal.

In no case should the ladder overhang the person climbing the ladder.

If the angle is more than 75 degrees, a safe system of work to prevent falls should be provided such as a permanent fall-arrest system or a full body harness with double arm lanyard.

8.9 Falling objects and the role of PCBUs

PCBUs must manage the risks associated with an object falling on a person if it is reasonably likely to injure the person.

Adequate protection must be provided to minimise the risk and protect the person.

When managing risks, the risk must be eliminated, so far as is reasonably practicable. If elimination is not reasonably practicable, the risks must be minimised so far as is reasonably practicable.

This requires each relevant PCBU to provide and maintain a safe system of work including:

      • fall prevention, so far as is reasonably practicable, and
      • if fall prevention is not reasonably practicable—a system to arrest falling objects, so far as is reasonably practicable.

Other control measures can include:

      • use of ‘isolation’ or ‘no go’ zones where there is a risk of an object falling into an area
      • providing appropriate training and supervision
      • use of suitable Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Administrative controls (such as safe work methods or procedures) and PPE should only be used:

      • when there are no other practical control measures are available (as a last resort)
      • as an interim measure until a more effective way of controlling the risk can be used, and
      • to supplement higher level control measures (as a backup).


8.10 Emergency Procedures for Falls

Whenever there are risks from working at height, appropriate emergency procedures and facilities, including first aid, must be established and provided. Typical injuries from falls can include unconsciousness and occluded airway, impalement, serious head or abdominal injuries and fractures.

As a result of a fall a person using a fall-arrest system could suffer suspension intolerance, also known as ‘suspension trauma’.. The WHS Regulations contain a specific provision to address the need for emergency and rescue procedures for such situations.

Regulation 80: A person conducting a business or undertaking who implements a fall-arrest system as a measure to control risk must establish emergency and rescue procedures.
The procedures must be tested so that they are effective. Workers must be provided with suitable and adequate information, instruction and training in relation to the emergency procedures.

8.10.1 Emergency procedures

In developing emergency procedures, the different types of emergency and rescue scenarios that might arise should be considered. Information from the risk assessment will help in this task.

Regulation 42: You must ensure that workers have access to first aid equipment and facilities for the administration of first aid. You must also ensure that workers are trained to administer first aid or that workers have access to persons who are trained in first aid.

Further guidance is available in the First Aid in the Workplace Code of Practice.

The emergency procedures for falls may be incorporated into the emergency plan required for the workplace under the WHS Regulations.

When establishing emergency procedures, you should take into account the following:

Relevant considerations Questions
Location of the work area Is the work at height being undertaken in a remote or isolated place? How accessible is it in an emergency and how far away is it from appropriate medical facilities?

Can the rescue of a person after an arrested fall be provided immediately, without the need to rely on emergency services?

Communications How can workers working at height communicate in an emergency?
Rescue equipment What kinds of emergencies may arise? The provision of suitable rescue equipment will depend on the nature of the work and the control measures used, for example, an emergency rapid response kit with man-made fibre rope, according to AS/NZS 4142.3 Fibre ropesMan-made fibre rope for static life rescue lines .

Selected rescue equipment should be kept in close proximity to the work area so that it can be used immediately.

Capabilities of rescuers Are rescuers properly trained, sufficiently fit to carry out their task and capable of using any equipment provided for rescue (e.g. breathing apparatus, lifelines and fire-fighting equipment)?

Have emergency procedures been tested to demonstrate that they are effective?

First aid Is appropriate first aid available for injuries associated with falls?

Are trained first aiders available to make proper use of any necessary first aid equipment?

Local emergency services How will the local emergency services (e.g. ambulance) be notified
of an incident? What is the likely response time?Do you have all the address details, including nearest cross street?

8.10.2 Suspension intolerance or trauma

Suspension intolerance can occur with a fall-arrest system when a person has an arrested fall and is suspended in an upright, vertical position with the harness straps causing pressure on the leg veins. The lower legs’ capacity to store large amounts of blood reduces the return of blood to the heart, slowing the heart rate, which can cause the person to faint. This may lead to renal failure and eventually death, depending on a person’s susceptibility. This condition may be worsened by heat and dehydration.

The quick rescue of a person suspended in a full body harness, as soon as is possible, is vital. For this reason, workers should be capable of conducting a rescue of a fallen worker and be familiar with onsite rescue equipment and procedures.

Workers and emergency response workers must be trained in the rescue procedures and be able to recognise the risks of suspension intolerance and act quickly in the rescue of a person.

8.10.3 Preventing suspension intolerance

To prevent suspension intolerance occurring as a result of an arrested fall, you should ensure that:

      • workers never work alone when using a harness as fall protection
      • workers use a harness, which allows legs to be kept horizontal
      • the time a worker spends in suspension after a fall is limited to less than five minutes. When
        a suspension is longer than five minutes, foothold straps or a way of placing weight on the
        legs should be provided.
      • workers are trained to do the following when they are hanging in their harness after a fall:
        • move their legs in the harness and push against any footholds, where these movements are possible. In some instances, the harness design and/or any injuries received may prevent this movement
        • move their legs as high as possible and the head as horizontal as possible, where these movements are possible.
        • Apply the Suspension Trauma Straps (recommended addition to a fall arrest harness).

Suspension Trauma Straps in use

8.10.4 Training for rescues

The training for rescuing workers who have fallen should address the following factors:

      • the rescue process should start immediately
      • training frequency should take into account the worker’s competence and their ability to retain competence through regular exposure to the equipment and skills needed to perform a rescue
      • workers should not put themselves at risk during a rescue.


8.10.5 Advice for first-aiders responding to harness suspension incidents

Following completion of an evidence based review of published medical literature, HSE (Health and Safety Executive UK) has clarified guidance on the first aid management of a person falling into suspension in a harness who may develop ‘suspension trauma’.

The key recommendations are:

      • No change should be made to the standard first aid guidance for the post recovery of a semi-conscious or unconscious person in a horizontal position, even if the subject of prior harness suspension.
      • No change should be made to the standard first aid guidance of ABC (Airway, Breathing, Circulation) management, even if the subject of prior harness suspension.
      • A casualty who is experiencing pre-syncopal symptoms or who is unconscious whilst suspended in a harness should be rescued as soon as is safely possible.
      • If the rescuer is unable to immediately release a conscious casualty from a suspended position, elevation of the legs by the casualty or rescuer where safely possible may prolong tolerance of suspension.
      • First responders to persons in harness suspension should be able to recognise the symptoms of pre-syncope. These include light headedness; nausea; sensations of flushing; tingling or numbness of the arms or legs; anxiety; visual disturbance; or a feeling they are about to faint. (Motionless head up suspension can lead to pre-syncope in most normal subjects within 1 hour and in a fifth within 10 minutes.)

8.10.6 Further reading:

Australian Resuscitation Council:

Guideline 9.15 – Harness Suspension Trauma



Revision History:
Updated 21 November 2017