Safe Work Australia issues new WHS guidance on industrial rope access systems

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Friday, 17 June, 2022 - 12:15
Industry news
New South Wales

Safe Work Australia recently published new guidance to assist persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) to manage the health and safety risks of industrial rope access systems.

An industrial rope access system is a work positioning system used for gaining access to, and working at, a workface, usually through vertically suspended ropes.

“As a PCBU, you must eliminate the risk of a fall from one level to another if the fall is likely to injure a worker or any other person. If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk of a fall (such as by working on the ground or on a solid construction), you must provide and maintain a safe system of work to minimise this risk,” the guidance said.

This safe system of work must provide adequate protection against the risk of a fall, and a safe system of work includes:

  • providing a fall prevention device, e.g. guard rail, barrier, roof safety mesh, scaffolding, a building maintenance unit, or elevating work platform
  • if a fall prevention device is not reasonably practicable, providing a work positioning system, e.g. an industrial rope access system, or
  • if neither of these are reasonably practicable, providing a fall arrest system, e.g. a backup safety line, safety net or catch platform, so far as is reasonably practicable.

“Providing a work positioning system may not be enough to minimise the risk of a fall. In most circumstances, it is reasonably practicable to also provide a fall arrest system, like a safety line. This is standard practice for industrial rope access systems but must be considered when using any work positioning system,” the guidance said.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is the least effective method for controlling risk in isolation, however, it can be effectively used in conjunction with higher-level controls to minimise residual risk.

“If workers are required to use PPE at the workplace, you must provide it unless it has been provided by another PCBU. You must ensure it is selected to minimise risk to health and safety,” the guidance said. This includes ensuring the PPE is:

  • suitable for the nature of the work and any hazard associated with the work
  • of suitable size and fit, and
  • reasonably comfortable for the worker who is to use or wear it.

Additional personal protective equipment that may be appropriate includes:

  • gloves to protect against cold weather or injury
  • slip-resistant footwear
  • eye protection where debris is being cleared or material is being removed, or where drilling, cutting or percussion operations are being undertaken
  • respiratory protective equipment where there is a risk of inhalation of harmful chemicals or dust
  • hearing protection where noise levels could cause a risk of hearing damage
  • buoyancy or life jackets when working over water, and
  • sun protection.

“You must also ensure PPE is maintained, repaired and replaced so it continues to minimise risk to the worker who uses it. This includes ensuring the equipment is clean and hygienic, and in good working order,” the guidance said.

“If you direct the carrying out of work, you must train workers in how to properly use, wear, store, and maintain the PPE. A worker must, so far as reasonably able, use or wear the PPE as instructed and must not intentionally misuse or damage the equipment.”