From the start of the year, Cairnmead Industrial Consultants have been tracking our High Risk Activities on our construction sites, and the highest HRA recorded every week has been working at heights. It is no surprise as falling from heights remains one of the largest causes of fatalities and injuries, according to the South African Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (Saiosh).

It is estimated that at 15% of incidents are recorded involving falling from an elevated height, according to Construction Safety SA.

Working at elevated positions also referred to in the construction industry as working at heights, does not have a height specified within the regulations. However, it is specified that no work is allowed in an elevated position unless such work is performed safely from a ladder or scaffolding, or from a position where such person have been made safe as if he or she were working from scaffolding. Common work areas where accidents happen include, falling from scaffolding, ladders and through fragile surfaces.

There are numerous reasons that this is the highest cause of injury on site, such as failing to wear or use the proper PPE / fall arrest or fall prevention equipment, have not received training, and not following protocols etc. However, it can also be speculated that another cause could be that the completion of minor tasks is not taken seriously enough. Construction workers might use scaffolding, ladders, elevating work platforms without obtaining the proper training and safety procedures. Thinking that because it only requires a short amount of time, nothing can go wrong. This thinking can be very dangerous as fatalities can occur at any time. As seen in the following stats: that just over 3% of accidents involved ladders; minor tasks can have a major effect on a site’s health and safety when not performed in an appropriate manner.

Fall Protection Plan

A fall protection plan must be in place for a site, it is the contractor’s duty to make sure that the plan is implemented, revised when necessary and maintained. The fall protection plan shall include a risk assessment of all elevated work that shall include the procedures and methods used to identify all risks in the locations.

It is also indicated that an evaluation of physical and psychological fitness must be conducted on employees working at heights and be kept on record.

The following programmes or procedures should also be included in the plan; training of all employees working at elevated areas and inspections, testing and maintenance all fall protection equipment.

It is also imperative that a site-specific rescue plan be available and must detail the necessary procedure, personnel and suitable equipment required to affect a rescue of a person in the event of a fall incident to ensure that the rescue procedure is implemented immediately falling following an incident.

The contractor must ensure that the construction manager should have the most updated version of the fall protection plan.


It is indicated in the Construction Regulations that all unprotected openings in any surface area; this includes floors, edges, slabs, hatchways, and stairways; are properly guarded or barricaded as to prevent any worker from falling through the space. It is also recommended that all opening should also have appropriate signage, clearly indicated that there is an open space.

Employees are not permitted to work in an elevated position, unless the work is performed safely, as if working from scaffolding or a ladder, and with the correct PPE if required.

Fall Arrest Equipment

All fall arrest equipment should be suitable and have the strength to support the person using the equipment, having regard to the work being carried out and the load, including any person, they are intended to bear. It should also be securely attached to a structure that can provide sufficient support and strength should a person be liable to fall. Fall arrest equipment is used only where it is not reasonably practicable to use fall prevention equipment.

Roof Work

Where roof work is performed on a construction site, the contractor must ensure that the roof work has been properly planned and that the work being performed are correctly carried out. The following recommendations is to be noted when working on a roof:

  • No work shall be performed in inclement weather conditions, such as heavy rain or wind.
  • Clear warning signage must be placed at all covers to openings that will not be able to support any person, imposed loads or where fragile material exist. These areas should also be barricaded so that a person could not enter this area.
  • Suitable platforms and coverings be provided and can support the weight of any person using these platforms and can perform their work safely.
  • Sufficient guardrails or barriers to be used in any area to prevent the fall of any person, material, or equipment.

It is evident that working at height is a problem within the construction industry, however, it can also be prevented. By implementing the correct procedures, providing the correct training and equipment. It is the duty of all Health and Safety Professionals to provide sufficient advice and assistance to reduce the fatality rate of this HRA.

If you would like more information or hear more about how we can help, contact us and let us put our combined 267 years of experience to work for you.

Christof Lourens

CEO Cairnmead Industrial Consultants (Pty) Ltd

Tel: 012 346 5752 | Email:

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