There’s a risk of falling when working at a height—near an opening, an edge or on a slippery, sloping or unstable surface. You can also fall at ground level into holes like openings, trenches or service pits. Find out what steps you can take to stay safe when working at heights.
What’s a fall?
Falls are a major cause of death and injury at Australian workplaces. Workers can fall from heights, and at ground level into holes such as openings, trenches or service pits. Falls on the same level can also occur.
This page is about falls from one level to another.
You can read more about falls on the same level in slips, trips and falls. There are many shared risks that can contribute to losing balance and a fall from height.
What are the risks of falls?
Workers risk injury or death when they fall from one level to another, or at level. The Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 (WHS Regulation) sets out specific control measures you must put in place when people are working at specified heights in different places of work.
Measures should also be taken to prevent falls when people are working:
- on plant or structures that help gain access to an elevated level
- near an opening they could fall through
- near an edge they could fall over
- on or near a surface they could fall through
- on or near a slippery, sloping or unstable surface.
The Managing the risk of falls at workplaces code of practice 2021 (PDF, 3.9 MB) has information about how to identify and manage the risks of falls.
How do I manage the risks?
Workers and management can work together to reduce the risks of injuries from fall hazards, or where workers need to work at heights. A safe place of work benefits everyone. Find out more about how to create safe work.
You can find detailed practical guidance on how to identify and manage risks in:
- Managing the risk of falls at workplaces code of practice 2021 (PDF, 3.9 MB)
- Managing the risk of falls in housing construction code of practice.
If you’re working at heights or in a situation where you could fall, you must comply with any safety systems and procedures in place and work in a safe manner.
If you’re a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), you must protect workers by managing risks to their health and safety at work. Part 4.4 of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 specifies your obligations to manage the risk of workers falling from one level to another. If your business is in construction, you must put additional controls in place, as discussed below under Work at heights in construction.
Designers, manufacturers, suppliers, importers and installers of plant or structures also have responsibilities to keep workers safe.
Workers and businesses in the construction industry have specific obligations they must follow when managing the risk of falls.
Read more below about these obligations, including information about safe work method statements (SWMS).
Inspectors will take action, including issuing improvement notices or prohibition notices, if risks of falling are not controlled according to the standards outlined in the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011.
Four steps to managing risk
To protect workers from injury, you should follow a four-step risk management process, outlined below.
The first step is to identify all fall hazards in the workplace. Look for things and situations that could potentially cause harm, considering:
- the physical work environment
- equipment, materials and substances used
- work tasks and how they’re performed
- work design and management
- how effective the current control methods are.
Inspect your business
Walk through your place of work, looking at the environment and work processes. Identify situations or processes that place workers at risk of falling.
Talk to your workers
Consult with your workers about their health and safety concerns, near misses or unreported incidents.
Review available information
Look at information from a range of sources to identify hazards. Your sources should include:
- information from regulators, industry associations, unions and technical specialists
- workers’ compensation data for your organisation and your industry
- instructions and datasheets from manufacturers and suppliers
- business-specific information from your own records, including any recorded incidents, sick leave or worker complaints.
Assess each risk to determine:
- the severity of the risk
- whether any existing control measures are effective
- what action you should take to control the risk
- how urgently the action needs to be taken.
You can use this risk assessment template (DOCX, 0.02 MB) to guide you and record your assessments.
You can do a single (or generic) risk assessment for different work areas or places of work if the fall hazards are the same. But you should do a separate risk assessment on each hazard if there’s any likelihood that someone might be exposed to greater, additional or different risks.
There are ways to control the risks of falls. Some control measures are more effective than others. Control measures can be ranked from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest. This ranking is known as the hierarchy of control.
You must work through this hierarchy to choose the best controls in the circumstances. This could be a single control measure or a combination of different controls. Part 4.4 of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 has information about how you can control risk of falls using the following steps:
- Eliminate the risk
The most effective level of control is to remove the risk. You should avoid working at heights, if it’s reasonably practicable, and do as much work as you can from the ground.
- Work on solid constructions
If you can’t remove the risk by working on the ground, you need to minimise it. Prevent falls by working on solid constructions. A sold construction has:
- a surface that can support all people and things that may be located or placed on it
- an even surface and gradient that’s easy to negotiate
- barriers to prevent a fall around it’s perimeter and any openings
- a safe way to enter and exit.
- Provide and maintain a safe system of work
If you can’t remove the risk, you must put in place control measures and a safe system of work. This can include, in priority order, as far as is reasonably practicable:
- a fall prevention device, for example, guard rails
- a work positioning system, for example, an industrial rope access system
- a fall-arrest system.
If it’s not reasonably practicable to provide a fall-prevention device or a work-positioning system, a combination of control measures may be necessary, for example, using a safety harness while working from a boom-type elevating work platform (EWP) within the confines of the edge-protected platform.
Note that there may still be risks of injury from a fall if you are working at ground level. Injuries from falls could be worse if workers make contact with sharp edges/protrusions, equipment that is operating or hot items. Fall hazards for workers at ground level include falling into holes like openings, trenches or service pits.
Workers can also fall on the same level. You can read more about how to manage slips, trips and falls at level. This includes controls such as:
- improving access way
- grading ground surface after rain
- good housekeeping
- highlighting trip hazards with yellow paint
- providing good lighting.
The Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 has specific controls that you must put in place for construction work. You can read more about these below.
You need to regularly review control measures to make sure they’re still suitable and working effectively.
In particular, you must review control measures in the following circumstances:
- when it doesn’t control the risk, for example, if a notifiable incident has happened it means that the controls in place have not been effective and must be reviewed
- before there’s a change at the workplace that will create a new or different risk
- you identify a new hazard or risk
- a consultation indicates that a review is necessary
- a health and safety representative requests a review if they reasonably believe that:
- a circumstance mentioned above affects, or may affect, the health and safety of a member of the work group they represent
- a control measure hasn’t been adequately reviewed in response to the circumstance.
Work at heights in construction
If your business is in construction, you must put additional controls in place to manage the risk of falls. Part 6.3, Division 4, Subdivision 2 of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 gives detailed information on the requirements you have to meet and the code of practice for managing the risk of falls at workplace (PDF, 3.9 MB) gives practical guidelines to meet the requirements. You must know how to meet the requirements and read all other relevant sections of the Regulation.
The controls you must put in place depend on:
- how far the fall risk is
- the degree of the slope if the construction work is on a roof.
Based on these factors, the Regulation divides fall risks into two categories. Section 306C and Section 306D of the Regulation defines these categories.
Section 306C of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 applies where the risk of a fall is:
- less than 3 metres in housing construction
- less than 2 metres in other construction work or
- any construction work on a roof with a slope not over 26 degrees.
If you’re working in these conditions, before the work starts you must:
- identify all hazards that may result in a fall, or cause death or injury if someone was to fall, for example:
- vertical reinforcing steel or the edge of a rubbish skip, a metre below a surface from which work is to be done
- unsheeted floor bearers and joists 2 metres below a surface from which work is to be done
- an object such as a picket fence or stack of bricks that could cause injury if a person fell on it
- a brittle roof on which work is to be done 2m above a floor.
- assess each hazard that could cause death or injury. You can use this risk assessment template (DOCX, 0.02 MB) to guide you and record your assessments
- ensure that everyone uses the control measures implemented to prevent or minimise exposure to the risk.
If an implemented control measure is one outlined in sections 306E to 306J of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011, it must meet the requirements outlined in the Regulation.
The code of practice for managing the risk of falls at workplace (PDF, 3.9 MB) gives practical guidelines for meeting these requirements.
Section 306D of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 applies where the risk of a fall is:
- over 3m in housing construction work
- over 2m in other construction work or
- any construction work on a roof with a slope over 26 degrees.
If you’re working in these conditions, you must use control measures to prevent falls whenever reasonably practicable. If it’s not reasonably practicable, you must use control measures to minimise the risk of death or injury if a fall does occur.
- edge protection (section 306E)
- a fall protection cover placed over an opening (section 306F)
- a travel restraint system (section 306G)
- fall-arresting platform (section 306H)
- fall-arrest harness system (section 306I)
- safety net (section 306J).
The control measures you put in place to eliminate or reduce risk must comply with the WHS Regulation. The code of practice for managing the risk of falls at workplace (PDF, 3.9 MB) gives practical guidelines for meeting these requirements.
In most cases, administrative controls (like signs, training and PPE) are not enough to control the risk of a fall from height and should be used together with higher order control measures.
If you do decide that administrative controls are the only way to control the risk in a specific situation, you’ll have to explain all the control methods you considered in the safe work method statement. This includes the control methods you decided against.
However, where there’s a risk of a fall of 2 metres or more in construction work (other than housing construction), administrative controls alone are not enough. Section 306D of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 states that you must implement controls to prevent or arrest a fall in this situation.
If there’s a risk of falling less than 2 metres, you may still need to have some control measures, depending on your assessment of the risks.
Safe work method statements
For construction work, you must prepare a safe work method statement and implement specific control measures if there’s a risk of a person falling more than 2 metres in all construction work.
Read more about managing the risk of falls while working on roofs in housing construction (PDF, 3.14 MB).
Standards and compliance
Codes of practice
- Managing the risk of falls at workplaces code of practice 2021 (PDF, 3.9 MB)
- How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB)
- Slips, trips and falls
- Managing fall risks on roofs in housing construction (PDF, 3.14 MB)
- Safe work method statements
- Safe working at heights from work platforms in the meat industry (PDF, 0.85 MB)
- Elevating work platforms
- Silo safety and confined spaces
- Checklist - planning the safe use, erection and dismantling of prefabricated or modular scaffolding (DOCX, 0.11 MB)
- Preventing workers falling from trucks (video)
- Alert: Falls from fixed ladders with cages
- Preventing falls from trucks (PDF, 0.53 MB)
- Anchors for building maintenance (PDF, 0.58 MB)