Health and safety in construction - your questions
We've listed some of the most common questions we get asked about the health and safety law and construction sites, so it’s easy for you to find the answer you’re looking for.
The Health and Safety at Work Act does not ban the use of three-step ladders, but does require that they are used in the way the manufacturer hasd designed them. In addition, HSWA requires the employer to take all reasonably practicable steps to eliminate or reduce, as far as is reasonably practicable, the risk of a person falling a distance likely to cause injury. Measures It is important to remember that the measures selected need to be proportionate to the risk. The use of a three-step ladder is considered appropriate for low-risk, short-duration tasks (taking into account factors such as a stable, level platform for the ladder).
Generally saw horses or saw horses with planks are not recognised as suitable work platforms, as they have not been designed for this purpose. The exception to this rule would be if the equipment was purposely designed and manufactured for this use and meets a relevant Standard.
The requirements in the law are not this specific (it’s the likelihood and the consequences of any fall that matters, not the height). There are a range of solutions available for employers and clients to manage height safety effectively and efficiently, including Podium ladders, light weight mobile work platforms, fall arrest soft land systems and safety nets or mesh in addition to harnesses and scaffolding.
Measures selected need to be proportionate to the risk - ie for low-risk, short-duration tasks, scaffolding or a harness is unlikely to be required.
The costs to install safe work systems for a single-storey home to prevent falls from height range from approximately $1,000 to $2,500. These costs are based on daily hiring rates. An edge protection system can be currently bought for about $8,000, meaning it would pay for itself after six to eight builds. Some firms that do opt for full scaffolding report efficiency benefits which can lead to savings.
Generally saw horses or saw horses with planks are not recognised as suitable work platforms, as they have not been designed for this purpose. The exception to this rule would be if the equipment was purposely designed and manufactured for this use and meets a relevant standard.
There is a variety of access equipment on the market to make working at height safer. Your duty is to take all practicable steps to prevent any harm that would result from a fall.
Working from a form of work platform with a guardrail will offer far better protection to prevent a fall than one without.
Focusing your attention on work above your head increases the risk of stepping off the board or platform and falling if you do not employ a guardrail.
Any work platform should be suitable for the purpose it is being used. There are two types of work platform:
- a proprietary (engineered) work platform constructed and used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions
- a constructed work platform using construction materials and built by a competent person. (This is only to be considered if no alternative forms of work platform are readily available.)
Have a look around your local access equipment hirer or trade supplier for ideas for more appropriate equipment. Podium steps could be one option.
Your hazard assessment must consider the site-specific factors and arrive at a decision that is justified by your assessment.
Yes. Single-storey dwellings require the same level of protection as two-storey dwellings and the same process must be followed to establish appropriate control measures. For example, where edge protection is the appropriate control measure required, it should be installed on a single-level dwelling in the same way that it should be installed on higher dwellings.
No. Ceiling battens do not provide any safe fall protection. Both metal and timber ceiling battens are generally a lightweight element designed to provide support for ceiling linings and not to sustain the loads imposed by a person falling. Even if a ceiling batten was engineered to sustain the loads imposed by a person falling there is still risk of the person sustaining serious injuries by landing on the battens.
No. At no time is any person to stand on or work from an external wall top plate without suitable fall protection. This must be considered as part of your planning for a safe approach to working at height.
If prefabrication of the roof structure is not possible and trusses are assembled in situ, a safe working platform (such as scaffold) should be provided around the perimeter of the framing. Measures to prevent or mitigate the distance of a fall must also be provided internally. This can be achieved by providing a working platform immediately beneath the underside of the trusses. Either conventional scaffolding, or (if appropriate) proprietary decking systems can be used. The use of safety mesh or other safety rated products that can span across the top of the framing can also be used.
Alternatively, if a safe internal working platform cannot be provided, safety nets can be used if a safe clearance distance below the net and a suitable fixing point can be achieved. Alternatives to nets are soft landing systems such as bean bags or air bags. In some circumstances safe clearance distance can be achieved by locating bracing of the framing on the outside of the structure.
The Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA) does not specify heights, but the selection of the most appropriate access equipment for a particular task is a requirement of the law.
You also have a duty, where working at height cannot be avoided, to take all practicable steps to prevent any harm that would result from a fall. Work platforms, scaffolding and towers all offer protection from a fall occurring. Ladders and step ladders do not offer fall protection, so should be the last form of work access equipment to be considered.
If you have selected ladder use, your risk assessment must justify why it is not possible to use safer equipment.
If your risk assessment determines that a ladder is the right piece of equipment to be used, then the right ladder should be selected and used in the correct manner.
Ladders should be used for low-risk and short-duration tasks, and three points of contact should always be maintained to prevent a person slipping and falling.
The risk of falling onto something below a ladder (for example, spiked railings or glass covering) is equally relevant as the height of the potential drop in terms of risk.
The Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 1892.1. Portable Ladders sets the following limits for ladder heights:
for temporary non-fixed ladders the maximum length for:
- a single ladder is nine metres
- an extension ladder is 15 metres
- a step ladder 6.1 metres.
where a ladder rises nine metres or more above its base, landing areas or rest platforms should be provided at suitable intervals.