South Africa’s legislation is unique:  we are one of the only countries that doesn’t have exclusive regulations for activities when working at height. As a result, we rely on subject matter experts to produce information and guidelines of good practice that can be followed to remain safe.

Here are the top 10 guidance tips for working at heights and bolstering safety for companies and their workers.

1. Competence is key

The construction regulations of 2014 define a competent person as: “A person who has in respect of the work or task to be performed, the required knowledge, training, experience and where applicable, qualifications specific to that work or task.”

It is critical that the fall protection planner is a competent individual who has the required knowledge, training, and experience to prepare the fall protection plan.

2. The fall protection plan isn’t a paper exercise

Once a fall protection plan has been written, it needs to be implemented, amended where and when necessary, and maintained as required. It is a working document and should constantly be used as an evolving guide.

For example, during the course of a project, a live electric wire may become exposed and dangerous to those on site. Whilst this was not a concern at the start of the project, the fall protection plan would need to be updated to declare this a hazard, state how the area needs to be isolated, and update the type of personal protective equipment (PPE) that needs to be worn by any individual entering that area.

Beyond having a living document that is maintained and kept updated, it is imperative that the plan is also easy to read and can be understood by all individuals on site. Workers should also refer to the plan when employed in their respective areas. Individuals working on site should be encouraged to report potential hazards that may have occurred during the course of the project or been overlooked in the beginning. 

3. Adherence is not just another word

The plan needs to be adhered to. There are many control measures within a health and safety system, such as planned task observations and inspections, but proactive supervision may well be the most hands-on approach.

In fall protection, the suggested optimal team compilation in a “fall arrest situation” (depending on the scope and size of the job) consists of at least two fall arrest technicians and two basic fall arrest technicians. There should also be at least one fall arrest supervisor overseeing a team of no more than six people.

When working at height, one must never work alone and supervision should not be negotiable.

4. Plan the sequence of your operations

Method statement is a commonly-used term for a detailed description of the operation mapped out in sequential steps. This method statement creates clarity on what needs to be done, what resources will be used, and who will be involved.

Method statements should be applied when working at height to minimise the risks that are identified in the fall protection plan.

5. Identify the hazards and calculate the risk

After completing the method statement, one will have a good structure on which to base the risk assessment. The process of risk assessment is to firstly identify the hazards, then calculate the risk, and finally implement control measures to minimise or eliminate that risk.

The best control measures will eliminate the hazard entirely, but in situations where this cannot be achieved, it is imperative to minimise the risk. This risk should be stipulated in the plan and the plan should be adhered to.

6. Consider the most practical access method

There are seven basic access methods to consider when working at height. These have been set out by the Institute for Work at Height and include: fall arrest and fall prevention (fall protection); rope access; mobile elevated work platforms; towers and ladders; scaffolding; suspended access equipment; and falsework. 

When planning to work at height the first choice to make is which access method must be used. Consider these factors when choosing which access method is best:

  • The height you will have to reach and work at.
  • Site accessibility (will a mobile elevated work platform be able to access the work area?).
  • The duration of the activity.
  • The complexity of the work to be done.
  • The costs involved for the various access methods.
  • The associated hazards of the activity.
  • The competencies required to use the selected access method.

7. Is the team medically fit to work at height?

All individuals working at height must have a valid medical certificate of fitness. This can only be issued by a registered occupational health practitioner and must specify the fitness to work at height, as well as include Annexure 3 as per the Construction Regulation 2014.

A medical certificate expires annually and records must be kept by the employer.

8. Is the team competent to work at height?

Work at height is a high-risk practice; employee training is not something to be taken lightly.

A good starting baseline is selecting the appropriate training provider. A training provider should: be accredited by the relevant sector education and training authority (SETA) for the programme registered with that SETA; be able to provide proof of uploads to the National Learner Registration Database; and be registered and recognised with the Institute for Work at Height.

There are various types of training course per access method. Choose the suitable programme for the project at hand. A reputable training provider, such as BBF SHEQ Services, will have competent staff who can advise on the suitable training for the application, should the fall protection planner have any doubts.

9. Is the equipment suitable and safe to use?

We all love a bargain and, in these tough economic times, we are always looking for a way to save on budget. However, if non-compliant or incorrect equipment is used when working at height, loss of life may be the result.

Select equipment that conforms to a manufacturing standard and is suitable for your scope of work. PPE such as your harness, lanyard, and helmet should be inspected at regular intervals (not exceeding three months). These inspections must be documented.

PPE should always be well-maintained and looked after. Every manufacture should provide care and maintenance instructions for each piece of fall arrest equipment sold.

One also needs to consider the care, inspection, and maintenance of the “system of work”. This could be the scaffold structure, anchor point, lifeline, or ladder used for the work.

10. What if someone should fall?

While the first nine steps are there to ensure there are no falls while working at height, everyone is human and mistakes can happen. If a fall does occur, one needs to be prepared to rescue the victim.

A well-formulated rescue plan, specific to the work site, must be present in the protection plan. When writing the rescue plan you must consider the following:

  • The rescue method, including the procedure leading up to the rescue, and what to do with the victim after they have been rescued.
  • The personnel and their competence to perform a rescue (it is highly recommended that those tasked with performing rescues take part in a refresher course at least twice a year, if not more. A rescue is a technical procedure that is made harder by the rush of adrenaline and panic; the faster it is performed, the more chance it has of success).
  • The equipment you will need to perform a successful rescue operation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.