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Arrest That Fall (OSA)

Published: 30th May 2014 in OSA Magazine

Mark Da Silva shares his expertise in height safety and fall arrest to help you get home safely at the end of each working day.

Falls are a major cause of deaths in Australian workplaces. Falls often occur from roofs, scaffolds, ladders, trucks and mezzanine floors, or into pits or holes. Falls from less than one metre can result in serious injuries such as fractures, spinal cord injury, concussion and brain damage.

The risk of serious injury or death from a fall increases significantly when working at heights of more than two metres and so fall prevention systems may need to be implemented.

As outlined in 2013 by Safe Work Australia, this includes circumstances in which the worker or another person is:
• In or on a plant or a structure that is used to access, or is already at, an elevated level
• In the vicinity of an opening or edge, through or over which a person could fall
• On or near a slippery, sloping or unstable surface

Hierarchy of risk control

In all matters concerning safety, one must adopt the hierarchy of risk controls. The table on the following page outlines the controls, as ordered from most to least effective.


















Fall arrest equipment

It is strongly recommended that a full body harness is used, as this provides better support in the event of a fall.
When selecting fall arrest equipment, you should consider:
• The height at which you will be working
• Whether you will be in a confined space
• The length of time, flexibility of movement and number of people required to perform the task
• The proximity of the task to the anchor points

Equipment inspection

There are four basic components that require inspection: mechanical devices, flexible anchorage lines, harnesses and connectors, and rigid anchor lines.

The equipment’s record card and history sheet should have the following information:
• The name and address of the manufacture or supplier
• The manufacturer’s batch or serial number
• The year of manufacture
• The weather conditions in which belts and harnesses can be used, in compliance with AS 1891
• The details of recommended connectors for safety belts or harnesses, including the maximum length of the connector to be used
• Details indicating which line to use with the device
• A statement, where applicable, that the device meets the requirements of AS 1891.3 for use in potentially flammable or corrosive atmospheres
• The date of purchase and first use, as well as any services or tests

Fitting and wearing

Some of the rules to follow when fitting and wearing fall arrest equipment:
• Visually check the harness to ensure all components are fitted, e.g. cross tabs or standard attachments
• Fit the harness and tighten the straps and waist belt so they are firm, but comfortable
• Make sure none of the straps are twisted and that they lay flat against the body
• The harness attachment for a full body unit should sit between the shoulder blades
• Check that movements are not restricted

Fall arrest systems

A fall arrest system is designed to arrest a fall, of up to 15 kilo newton (kN), in such a way as to minimise both the possible length of fall and the potential for injury due to the deceleration forces on the body.

The force

A person weighing 100kg falling from 2m generates a force on impact of 1.5 tonnes, equating to the weight of a family car.

Fall arrest system

As an example, if a lanyard is 2m long, the energy absorber extension is 1.9m, the worker is 1.8m tall and 1m of clearance is allowed, then the total fall distance before this particular configuration became effective in arresting a fall would be 6.7m.

A personal restraint device should restrain a person so they cannot get into a position from where they could fall, such as reaching an unguarded edge.

These are used in situations where there is risk or when law or procedure dictates they should be used.

On a cone roof with no handrails, for example, you would anchor to the centre of the roof with a lifeline that stops you from being closer than 300mm to the edge. A lifeline is a fixed line without any shock absorber.

Fall protection systems such as fall restraint used for this work are preferred as they do not allow a person to get into a falling position.


Any persons undertaking work at height shall have sufficient instruction, training and supervision. Certain tasks require specific training and, if working with contractors, evidence of this training should be viewed prior to work commencing.

Operators of certain types of equipment must be licensed. In Victoria, for example, persons operating elevating work platforms with a boom length exceeding 11m and persons who erect or dismantle scaffolding higher than 4m must be licensed.

When elevating work platforms are used near power lines, a trained spotter should be provided. Further information should be obtained from the relevant power company.

Even where specific licensing requirements do not apply, operators and users of elevating work platforms must be trained in the use of the equipment. Training should align with the recommendations of the Elevating Work Platform Association, as outlined on its website: www.ewpa.com.au.

Compatibility of equipment

Even if equipment such as harnesses, lanyards, attachment devices and anchor points complies with Australian Standards it may still be incompatible. For more information refer to AS/NZS 1891.4 section 2.1.3.

Monitoring and supervision

The operations manager should supervise work at height tasks undertaken by workers and ensure supervision arrangements.

Supervision and monitoring must include:
• Checking that harnesses are worn at all times necessary
• Checking that lines are correctly adjusted
• Monitoring variable conditions such as the weather and suspending work where appropriate

Maintenance of equipment

The operations manager should ensure that equipment complies with the following:
• All anchor points comply with AS1891: 2000 - industrial fall arrest systems and devices and must to be tested every12 months, refer to AS1891.4 Table 9.1
• Anchor points should not in general be painted since this may hide cracks or other faults - a plan of anchor point locations should be provided at the entrance to the roof, as per AS1891.4, Section 3.2.5
• Harnesses should be checked every six months - refer to OHS-013 / F02 Harness Inspection Checklist, based on AS1891, Part 4, Appendix C
• Fall arrest devices should be checked every three months - refer to AS1891, Part 4, Appendix D
• Refer to AS1891: 2000, Part 4, Industrial Fall Arrest Systems and Devices, Table, 9.1 for other maintenance requirements

If ladders are used they should be checked as part of workplace inspections for twisted, bent, kinked or crushed stiles; cracked welds; damaged feet and missing, worn, damaged or loose rungs, steps, treads, tie rods or top plates. Cyclic inspections do not replace the need to visually check a ladder each time it is used.

Wearing a harness

There are seven basic steps to check if your harness is on correctly:
• Ensure the dorsal ‘D’ ring sits between the shoulder blades
• Ensure the shoulder, chest, waist and leg straps are firm
• Ensure that there are no twists in the webbing - look for cuts and abrasions
• Anchor points are essential for an effective fall protection system. When determining an anchor you must consider the task and the fall prevention system to be utilised:
• Anchor point - a secure point of attachment to which a fall prevention system may be secured – 15kN fall arrest, 12kN travel restraint, 6kN fall restraint
• Anchor point requirements - 15Kn for one person, 22Kn for two people using the same anchor point

As an example, think of 15kN as the weight of an average family car hanging from an anchor point. Users should always seek an anchor point that is above their head. As outlined in the following section, fall factor 1 is preferred.

Fall factors:
• Fall factor 1 – the lanyard is anchored above shoulder height and a fall equals the length of the lanyard
• Fall factor 2 – the lanyard is anchored below attachment point on harness and a fall equals twice the length of the lanyard

Potential fall system hazards

Fall path obstructed

Is there clearance in the fall path? In some cases, for example, when working above objects such as pumps, there is a risk of impalement or injury from what is below. This should be considered in the hierarchy of control.

Pendulum effect

The pendulum effect is the swing created from a fall before gravity returns the worker to the centre of the pendulum. When considering working at heights, predicting and knowing where the centre of the pendulum is will determine what a person can swing into.

Lanyards and shock absorbers

Twin tail lanyards are used with fall prevention systems. They must have a shock absorber and the shortest lanyard to safely accomplish the job should they be used. A lanyard extends from the safety harness to the anchor point.

Double lanyards must have double action connectors. The person climbing the double lanyard must ensure in this application that the connectors will slide down to the lowest point on the rail. They are likely to be subject to side loading. Side loading can be controlled by using soft connections such as slings or by the use of hooks rated to withstand side loading.

Lanyards should be attached to the dorsal ‘D’ ring, typically located between the shoulder blades, or the middle of the chest strap on the harness. They must never be tied or knotted to the ‘D’ ring. Shock absorbers and lanyards have a safe working load, as tested to fall factor 2 (21 kN).

The requirements for using the dorsal ‘D’ position on a full body harness may alter only for situations using travel restraint, where other approved and designated harness attachment points may be used. Any variation from the use of the dorsal position should be following consideration by supervisory personnel and noted specifically on the safe work method statement (SWMS) documentation.

In the event of a fall, the height safety equipment should to be tagged as out of service and returned to the person in charge of the test and tag register.

What you can do to improve workat height safety:
• Familiarise yourself with your work site and plan a job walk with the work team before commencing the job
• Observe any potential hazards in your surroundings and note these down on a SWMS to ensure the most effective risk controls are in place for those particular hazards
• A safe job ensures good, effective strategic planning
• Maintain the highest levels of hazard identification when working or moving while at height
• Always follow the correct safe working practises and apply for safe defensive behavioural techniques
• Independent review from a third party may be helpful
• Apply open communication and consultation principles to all work parties and ensure there is an issue resolution process that can be managed by all relevant stakeholders
• Apply the KISS - Keep it Simple, Stupid - principle for workers to ensure practicality and ease of understanding
• Intervene if you see an unsafe act


Falls from height can leave employees with permanent and debilitating injuries in any industry. The most effective risk control method to reduce the risks of working at heights is elimination. If there is an inconsistency in the risk control methodology that cannot be completed safely as far as is reasonably practicable, apply the hierarchy of risk control. It is imperative to ensure the implemented risk control is effective for the work to be safely completed. If it is not effective, stop the job and reassess.

In the world of safety it is a good practise for safety leaders to practise what they preach and walk the talk, for the standard you walk past, is the standard you accept.

Published: 30th May 2014 in OSA Magazine


Mark Da Silva

Mark Da Silva is a registered safety practitioner for the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) and has acquired the status of Chartered Fellow - the peak professional graded membership of the SIA. He has academic accreditations including a master’s degree in Applied Science (OHS-RMIT) and a graduate diploma of Occupational Hazard Management (VIOSH), with extensive industry knowledge including safety leadership, organisational behaviour, environmental sustainability and risk.

Through the completion of a master’s thesis on safety leadership, Da Silva has an exemplary understanding of workplace safety culture and behaviour based safety techniques. Case studies developed and proven in Da Silva’s thesis incorporate management commitment considerations, information and communication dimensions, plus workplace perception.

Da Silva has applied his theoretical framework to his professional conduct through the development and implementation of effective safety cultural surveys, which were paramount in many organisations’ cultural step changes, essentially adding value to the safety improvement and action plans for clients.

As a proactive, conscientious and adaptable health, safety and environment professional, Da Silva’s personal aphorism is “Go Home Safe!”

Skilled in developing, implementing and executing key strategic business improvement initiatives, Da Silva draws on wide ranging practical experience, including heavy industrial manufacturing, telecommunications, oil and gas and renewable energy resources, infrastructure operations and the maintenance and construction of major projects, with knowledge attained through academic accreditation.

Mark Da Silva



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+61 400594869

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