Height Safety: Seven steps to a reliable fall prevention system

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Poorly installed or designed fall prevention systems can lead to workplace injury, downtime and financial liability not only compromising the safety or your workers but also putting your businesses reputation on the line.  Failing to provide a safe workplace can cost a business more than its reputation, in some cases it can result is costly lawsuits and even jail time if negligence is proven.

Nobles recommend following these seven steps to put your workers and business in the best position to avoid disaster when working at heights.

Step one - Find a comfortable harness.

It is important that your harness is comfortable to wear and does not put any unnecessary pressure on your shoulders, thighs or pelvis.  Whilst wearing your harness you should be able to have full range of motion if it is fitted correctly.  The dorsal D-ring should be positioned centrally between the shoulder blades and always ensure none of the straps are twisted.  Your shoulder straps should be the same length on either side and your leg straps should be tightened so you can still fit a flat hand between your leg and the strap.  Your chest strap, if fitted, should be kept loose so it doesn’t impact you if you fall and should be 3 finger widths above the base of your sternum.  Webbing strap keepers are used to prevent webbing slippage and entanglement, if they are positioned properly.  If you have two keepers, one should be positioned tight against the buckle to keep it in adjustment and the second one used to secure the extra webbing.

Step two - Select the right lanyard.

Choosing the right lanyard is based on a number of factors, the most crucial factor is choosing a lanyard that will guarantee correct fall clearance.  Fall clearance is ensuring you don’t hit anything below your working level if you happen to fall i.e. a lower level or the ground.   According to the Safe Work Australia standard, to determine the required fall clearance you can use the following calculations.

Image: Safe Work Australia 2011. Managing the risk of falls at workplaces – Code of Practice, December, p31.


- 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. The maximum allowable free fall is 2 meters.

- Avoid working above the anchor point, as this will increase the free fall distance resulting in higher forces on the body and greater likelihood of the lanyard snagging on obstructions which may prevent the shock absorber acting to reduce forces on your body.

- Consider whether the fall arrest system anchor position may act as a pendulum point causing the user to ‘swing back’ into the building/structure or ‘swing down’ and hit the ground.

Step three - Find and select an anchor point.

An anchor point is a secure point for attaching a lanyard, lifeline or other component of a fall prevention system. All anchor points must be tested and approved by a competent person before use.  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 and immediately after it has been used to arrest a fall.  If any sign 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.

Each anchorage point should be located prior to work commencing so that an appropriate lanyard can be attached to it before the person moves into a position where they could fall.

Step four – Decent and rescue system.

A decent and rescue system enables the retrieval of an injured or incapacitated worker, anyone who implements the use of a fall prevention system must establish emergency rescue procedures and have the appropriate rescue equipment at hand.  If you or your team have to rescue a fallen worker, your decent and rescue system will facilitate the rapid recovery of your worker without endangering other workers in the process.

IMPORTANT: A worker should NOT use a fall prevention system unless there is at least one other person on site who is adequately trained to rescue them if they fall.

There is a broad range of rescue equipment available, you can get fully automatic systems that allow a fallen worker to be attached and raised out of their harness before being lowered to the ground.  You can also get manually controlled devices that are small and compact or utilise elevated work platforms.

Rescuing a worker suspended in a full body harness must occur promptly to prevent suspension trauma.  Suspension trauma is when blood starts to gather in the lower legs preventing it from returning to heart and brain.  This begins when a fallen person has been suspended in a body harness for a prolonged period. This can vary person to person, usually from 5-20 minutes, depending on fitness and other physical conditions.

Step five – Preventing suspension trauma.

Whilst rescuing a fallen worker as quickly as possible is essential, it is also important to know the signs and symptoms of suspension trauma.  You should include this as part of the training for your rescue system.  The most common symptoms of suspension trauma include sweating, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, numbness of the legs and fainting / loss of consciousness among others.

The best way to prevent suspension trauma is to never work alone, always make sure you are working with someone who is currently qualified and is able to rescue you if you have fallen.  Other helpful tools include using a harness that will allow a fallen worker to keep their legs horizontal, training them to follow this basic harness movement with their legs if they have fallen and are conscious could help prevent the onset of suspension trauma whilst they wait to be rescued.  Another helpful device is a foothold strap that allows a fallen worker to place weight on their legs. These are readily available and can be retro fitted to any harness if not supplied as part of the original harness purchase.

Step six - Trained personnel.

You can have the best height safety system available, one that complies with all height safety component regulations and recommendations and ensures maximum worker safety, but, these systems will only be effective if they are installed by a trained and correctly qualified professional and is used by persons trained to work at heights and also trained to use the system in place.  A lot of articles about height safety mention ‘a competent person’ but the actual definition of this term is extremely important to ensure worker safety.  AS/NZS 1891.4 defines a competent person as: “A person who has, through a combination of training, education and experience, acquired knowledge and skills enabling that person to correctly perform a specified task.”1

Step seven – The responsibility of the company, user and manufacturer.

“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.”2

This includes ensuring:

 - Any work that involves the risk of a fall whether it is carried out at height or on the ground

 - Safe access to and exit from the worksite

 - A suitable fall prevention or fall arrest system is in place.

As we mentioned above, it is one thing to have a fall prevention system in place, but the company is also responsible for ensuring they also have appropriate resources, processes and training in place to further minimise the risk.

Workers have a responsibility to ensure they take reasonable care for their own health and safety as well as the health and safety of those around them.  It is their responsibility to ensure they follow reasonable instruction given by the business and follow the processes they were shown during training.

The manufacturer shall ensure all equipment complies with and is tested to the requisite Australian Standards.  Literature explain and showing the method of use, warnings and any maintenance requirements must be provided. Height safety products made from webbing or incorporating webbing as a part, in particular, must show on the item the date of manufacture and the date to withdraw from service. This is a maximum of 10 years from the date of manufacture regardless of condition.

Nobles have access to a wide range of market leading height safety equipment covering a variety of applications and price points.  For more information about height safety at your workplace and to ensure your equipment is compliant - please give our team a call on 1300 711 559 or send them an email at sales@nobles.com.au.

You can also see Nobles range of height safety equipment by following this link.

1 SAI Global 2009. AS/NZS 1891.4 – Industrial fall-arrest systems and devices Selection, use and maintenance, November, p6.

2 Safe Work Australia 2011. Managing the risk of falls at workplaces – Code of Practice, December, p3.