The Hierarchy of Control & Working at Heights

Anyone working at heights will know the many different hazards synonymous with this unique work environment. Workers in this industry deserve a secure working environment, guidelines and quality equipment – such as fall arrest systems and safe working platforms – on a daily basis and it’s the project managers’ and owners’ responsibility to ensure it’s available. But it’s often difficult to determine the best safety measures to put in place, right?

Having guidelines and the experience to identify your safety options which could help you approach Working at Heights in an organised manner. This is where the hierarchy of control comes in handy. Below you’ll see how it applies to working at height specifically.

What is the Hierarchy of Control?

The hierarchy of control was originally developed by the research agency, NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health). It’s an effective system to use when you need to control risks in a working environment.

There are different ways of interpreting the system, with some users grouping certain levels together. Generally, you can use the following levels, with the highest protection levels offering the most efficient risk control in the top tiers:

  • Elimination: Can you entirely remove the source of the hazard?
  • Substitution: Is there an alternative to the equipment or activity you’re considering, that carries less risk?
  • Isolation: Will it be possible to isolate workers from the hazard?
  • Engineer controls: Can you re-engineer, make physical changes to equipment or adjust work systems?
  • Administrative controls: How can you change job rotations, how people work or use signage to control the risk?
  • PPE: Will protective equipment offer protection for workers? This lower-level option is the least reliable and least efficient in most cases.

The goal is to create a situation with as little risk as possible. You need to consider all your options and implement what will give you as much of the following as possible:

  • Lowering risk, up to the point of nullifying a hazard
  • Maximising the control, you have in the situation

The Hierarchy and its Role when Working at Heights

This hierarchy is a general guideline for all work environments, but it’s ideal if you have a team working at heights. Here are practical examples to try for each level mentioned above:

  • Elimination: Look for ways to avoid working at heights. Perhaps there are tasks you can complete while workers are on the ground, rather than performing it up in the air. Even try to avoid working at height if the surface isn’t sturdy enough to carry workers’ weight.
  • Substitution: If you do need to work at a height, can you identify the safest place? Maybe use an EWP or Crane with Manbox…
  • Isolation: You can at least isolate workers from some risks by installing height safety systems such as barriers. This prevents them from reaching hazardous areas such as the edge of a roof.
  • Engineer controls: It’s always important to improve safety measures by installing and maintaining equipment and checking that it’s stable. Installing static lines, roof anchor points and fall arrest equipment will give you the engineering controls required to get the job done. Our experts can perform height safety audits to ensure your systems are all compliant.
  • Administrative controls: Signs that remind workers of safety guidelines can help prevent certain accidents. Anyone who will work high up also needs to undergo relevant training.
  • PPE: Protective clothing and gear like Harnesses and Lanyards will prevent certain injuries if a fall does take place.

Important Guidelines When Using the Hierarchy of Control

Scanning through the hierarchy and understanding which tasks relate to each level does come with an unfortunate risk. You may notice a task or guideline that’s easy to implement in a particular situation and be tempted to implement that and only that. But this approach doesn’t mean you’re optimising safety on site.

One method used on its own may offer some control but provides far less protection than is possible if you harness all your resources. Apart from it being your legal responsibility to create a safe working environment, your workers working at heights deserve optimal protection.

In many cases, your height safety systems can efficiently help you manage risk and eliminate hazards on various levels of the list shown above. When you use a trusted partner in height safety systems, you can have peace of mind that your workers will be as safe as possible, which is why we invite you to talk to Austral Height Safety.

From audits to installing height safety products, we can assist, helping you cover all possible levels in the hierarchy of control. Take back control and manage your risks when working at heights. Talk to us about a quote on 03 9462 3350.