Height Safety System Standards Explained

Computer screen showing the cover page of an Australian standard.

International and Australian standards govern just about everything we do. But what are they, and which ones should you be aware of when it comes to working at heights?

Just about everything we do and interact with daily has been developed under some sort of standard. Some standards are international, some are regional and some only apply to an individual country.

When it comes to protecting workers in high-risk environments from the risks of workplace injury, there are several standards that need to be followed.

What is a standard?

A standard is a document that sets out an agreed set of controls, sizes, formats, terminology or methods used to undertake a task or design a product.

Standards govern the building and operation of many, many things from the words used to describe coffee (ISO 3509) to the terminology of knitting (ISO 4921) to how forms should be designed (ISO 8439) and even how big the radio in your car should be (ISO 7736).

Standards come in many forms and can operate across different levels of government. International standards are designated by the term ISO and apply across the world. Australian standards are identified as “AS” and must be followed when working in or for Australia.

Who develops standards?

International standards are developed by the International Organization for Standardization. Yes, with the Zs. It is perhaps more commonly known by its abbreviated form ISO.

The ISO is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, and is comprised of over 150 member nations. Australia is, naturally, a member.

Australian standards are developed by Standards Australia. As the representative to the ISO, Standards Australia has a hand developing international standards as well as Australian ones. It also ensures that their local standards work to complement ISO standards.

Many Australian standards are developed cooperatively with Standards New Zealand, and are labelled as “AS/NZS” as opposed to just AS.

What standards are relevant to height safety?

There are a couple of main standards that are in place to assist in providing adequate workplace safety for those working at heights.

The main one used by HSE, and others, is AS/NSZ 1891 Industrial fall-arrest systems and devices. Presently, AS/NZS 1891 has several parts each covering a different aspect of height safety including fall arrest harnesses (part 1), horizontal lifelines and rail systems (part 2), fall arrest devices (part 3) and the selection, use and maintenance (part 4).

For most people working at heights, this is the standard that their equipment, and the fall protection system they are using needs to meet in order to be compliant.

The second standard relevant to those working at heights is AS 1657 Fixed platforms, walkways, stairways and ladders – Design, construction and installation.

This standard governs more permanent access systems that are often found as part of a fall protection system on or in a building.

How do I know my fall protection system meets the standards?

When your system was installed, you should have received a certificate or confirmation from your installer that the system was designed to meet the relevant Australian standards for fall protection systems.

If you are unsure and are within the retention funds period for your system, we can undertake a validation inspection for you to confirm the compliance of your system. If the system is not compliant, your installer may be liable for any rectification work needed to remedy it.

For buildings that have existing systems in place, they are required to have at least annual inspections by a suitably competent person to ensure the fixtures and fittings of the system are still in good working order. This recertification inspection should be part of your building’s ongoing maintenance plan.

I am unsure about the makeup of my system

In many cases, a fall protection system is often in a state of “out of sight, out of mind”. Commonly being located on roofs and rarely accessed means it is easy for the details of a system to be misplaced or forgotten.

A height safety audit examines your system and checks not just that the existing components are in good condition, but also looks for aspects of your system that may limit or not allow for complete access to your roof.

I am unsure about my responsibilities regarding compliance

Responsibility for a worker’s safety when undertaking tasks at height can be complicated. To get a better idea about your individual needs and any issues that may be unique to your site, call HSE on 1300 884 978, email enquiries@heightsafety.net.

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