Working at heights

Working at heights is a high risk activity, and a leading cause of death and serious injury in Australia. 

As a person conducting a business or undertaking, you have a duty to keep workers and workplaces safe from the risks of working at height. 

WHS duties  

Everyone in the workplace has WHS duties under the model WHS Act. You have specific duties if you are: 

  • a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) 

  • a designer, manufacturer, importer, supplier and installer of plant, substances or structures 

  • an officer. 

The model WHS Regulations outline duties that apply to work at heights. This includes specific requirements and ways to manage the risks of falls. For further information, see the model Code of Practice: Managing the risk of falls at workplaces

As a PCBU, you must, so far as is reasonably practicable:  

  • ensure the health and safety of workers and others at your workplace  

  • consult with workers who carry out work for the business or undertaking and who are (or are likely to be) directly affected by a health and safety matter, and 

  • consult, cooperate and coordinate activities with all other relevant duty holders. 

Managing risks  

You must, so far as is reasonably practicable, eliminate or minimise risks associated with working at height. You must also provide safe ways to enter and exit a workplace, including any areas with a risk of a fall. 

Where possible, you must ensure work is carried out on the ground or a solid construction.  

If that’s not possible, you must provide and maintain a safe system of work to provide adequate protection from falls. This includes providing: 

  • a fall prevention device – for example, barriers, scaffolding, elevating work platforms. 

  • if that’s not possible, a work positioning system – for example, an industrial rope access system. 

  • if that’s not possible, a fall arrest system – for example, a safety net or catch platform. 

You may need a combination of these controls to sufficiently minimise the risk. 

Think about fall prevention when planning to work at height. Once in place, a fall prevention device should not need adjustment. Have work procedures in place on how to install, use, and maintain the fall prevention device correctly.  

Work positioning systems are any plant or structure that position or support a person working at height. They don’t include temporary work platforms. Workers and supervisors must have the skills to use work positioning systems safely. 

Fall arrest systems can protect workers if other controls fail and they fall. Ensure workers are trained in their use and maintenance. 

You must minimise any remaining risks or risks introduced by using these controls, so far as is reasonably practicable. Further information on the risk management process is in the Code of Practice: How to manage work health and safety risks. 

High risk construction work 

Construction work with a risk of falling more than 2 metres is high risk construction work. You must prepare a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) for high risk construction work. 

For further information see the Code of Practice: Construction Work and Safe Work Method Statement for construction work - Information sheet

Supporting information