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Risks associated with the use of scaffolding, ladders and works at height.

WorkSafe is reminding the construction industry about the risks associated with the use of scaffolding, use of ladders and works at height.

Over the past 12 months 3 Victorian construction workers have been fatally injured as a result of falls from heights. Many other workers are also seriously injured as a result of falls from portable ladders.

From 2019-2020, there were 162 incidents reported involving falls. Out of these,

– 52 incidents involved falls from ladders

– 34 incidents involved falls from scaffolds

Where there is a risk of falling more than two metres, employers must eliminate that risk so far as is reasonably practicable.
They must:

  • Comply with the OHS regulations Prevention of falls requirements including following the “control of risk” hierarchy and establishing emergency procedures
  • Follow high risk construction work (HRCW) requirements, including the duty to prepare and implement a safe work method statement (SWMS)

If the risk of falls cannot be fully eliminated, employers must reduce any remaining risk by implementing the below controls in the following order:

  • Passive fall prevention device such as guard railing or scaffolds
  • Work positioning systems such as a rope access system or travel restraints
  • Fall arrest systems such as catch platforms, safety nets or safety harnesses
  • Fixed or portable ladders or administrative controls

More safety tips for fall prevention:

  • Perimeter edge protection is in place (scaffolding, guard rails or catch platforms incorporating guard rail systems) and
  • Safe access is provided to the work at height location(s)

When undertaking work on roofs where there is risk of internal fall, ensure that internal fall protection is in place, such as:

  • Guard railing around openings
  • Safety mesh installed across openings
  • A travel restraint system
  • Mobile scaffolding set up beneath the work area
  • An appropriate fall restraint system

Portable ladders are one of the least stable tools for work at height and for providing access/egress to platforms. WorkSafe is reminding employers that they must identify if safer systems such as scaffolding, elevated work platforms (EWP’s), can be used for the tasks. This is done by using the control of risk – prevention of falls hierarchy.

Control of risk – Prevention of falls hierarchy
Level 1 Work from the ground or on a solid platform

Example: using long handled tools, tool extension poles or relocate the task to the ground

Level 2 Use a passive fall prevention device
Example: using EWP, scaffolding or guard railing
Level 3 Use a work positioning system

Example: using industrial rope access system or travel restraint system

Level 4 Use a fall arrest system

Example: using industrial safety net, catch platform or safety harness system other than a travel restraint system

Level 5 If the above measures are not reasonably practicable for the task, it may be appropriate to use a ladder, provided it is fit for purpose, appropriate for the duration of the task and set up in the correct manner.

Ladders are not suitable for long duration or high force tasks.


Note: WorkSafe considers order pickers, step platforms and ladders to be ‘Level 5’ risk control measures.


Need more information?

Hear from Inspector Brian Chamberlin on top tips for falls and scaffolding safety. Also read the guidance note for the prevention of falls in construction. There compliance code for prevention of falls in housing can be read here.

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