Working at heights

Falling from any height can lead to death or long-term injuries.

Falls from heights are a major cause of fatalities and serious injuries at work in New South Wales.

Most people who are seriously injured or killed, fall from a height of four metres or less.

Ladders, incomplete scaffolds, falling off a truck, a roof edge or falling through fragile roof sheeting are the major causes of injuries.

More than 12,000 workers were injured after falling from a height between 2014 and 2017. 25 died and more than 240 were permanently disabled.

These incidents largely happen in the construction, manufacturing, transport, postal and warehousing and agriculture industries.

This October is Safe Work Month and we are blitzing NSW construction sites to check compliance and talk with employers and workers about how to work safely at heights, including safe use of scaffolds. Use this checklist to find out if your construction site is working at heights safely.

Hazards and risk controls

Eliminate the problem if it is reasonably practicable to do so.

Firstly, talk to everyone in your workplace. Listen to their views about working at heights. Draw on everyone’s experience and ideas.

1. Work on the ground or on a solid construction

If you don’t have to work at heights, don't. Working from the ground is always the safest option.

Designers should be looking for alternatives to working at heights during the design-phase of the project.

2. Use a fall-prevention device

If you have to work from a height, you need to manage the risk of a fall. A fall-prevention device is best because it will prevent your workers from falling. Examples include temporary work platforms, guardrails and scaffolding. All help to keep you safer when working at heights.

3. Use a work-positioning or fall-arrest system

When it's not possible to use a fall-prevention device, a work-positioning system or a fall-arrest system are your next best options.

A work-positioning system enables a person to work supported in a harness in tension in a way that prevents the person from falling eg industrial rope access. A fall-arrest system stops a person who has fallen and reduces the impact of the fall eg industrial safety nets or fall arrest harnesses used with lifelines or individual anchors.

If you use a work-positioning or fall arrest system, have emergency and rescue procedures in place.

Our technical help

Codes of practice

For practical information about working on the ground or from a solid construction, fall prevention devices, work positioning systems, fall arrest systems, ladders, administrative controls, emergency procedures, and the design of plant and structures, see the Code of practice for managing the risk of falls at workplaces.

For specific guidance for housing construction, see the Code of practice for managing the risk of falls in housing construction.


How to manage risks of falls

Risks of falls

Falls from heights are the leading cause of traumatic fatalities in the NSW construction industry. Watch our safety video to learn about managing the risks of falls during a solar installation.

Safe use of ladders


Workers have suffered dislocations, broken bones, severe lacerations and head injuries and in some cases workers have died.

Flatbed trucks

An experienced truck driver died when he fell from a trailer when loading.

Voids in house construction


An experienced worker suffered a serious brain injury when he fell through a stair void on a house construction site. The 60 year old worker was on the first floor helping move some materials when he tripped and fell through the void hitting the ground from three meters he suffered multiple fractures and a serious brain injury and hasn't worked since.
How to safely use an elevated work platform when harvesting

Harvesting at heights

A 55 year old farm worker was picking avocados on a farm in rural NSW when the mobile elevated work platform he was working on overturned. He suffered severe injuries and later died as a result of these injuries.

Watch our video to learn how to manage the risks involved when harvesting at heights.

Useful reports

Construction blitz on falls from heights project initial findings report
Construction blitz on falls from heights - November 2018

Read the results of SafeWork NSW's construction 2018 blitz on falls from heights.

Find out more
Towards zero report cover
Falls from heights - action plan

Read about the priorities of the Towards Zero Falls from Heights program and SafeWork NSW's action plan for 2019-2020.

Find out more

Legal obligations

There are specific laws about working safely at heights: See clauses 78 – 80 of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2017.

There are also general work health and safety laws that will apply to you in any situation, including when working at heights.

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