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Obligations & Duties Under The Act When Working At Heights

Many businesses find compliance in regards to working at heights confusing. As Height Safety Specialists we see on a daily basis examples of incorrect advice which has cost the business time, money and left them exposed to prosecution under the Work Health & Safety Act 2011. At times this advice has come from so called “height safety industry experts”. To assist with understanding your Duties under the Work Health & Safety Act 2011 when working at heights, we have developed an easy to understand summary which explains in straight forward terms what you as a PCBU (Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking) must do.

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Your Duties and Obligations when working at heights under the Work Health & Safety Act 2011

The Work Health & Safety Act 2011 gives a Primary Duty of Care to a PCBU. That Duty is as follows,

Division 2, Section 19 – Primary Duty of Care

(1) A person conducting a business or undertaking must ensure, so far as is reasonable, the health and safety of –

(a) workers engaged, or caused to be engaged by the person; and

(b) workers whose activities in carrying out work are influenced or directed by the person; while the workers are at work in the business or undertaking.

Section 2 also includes “other persons” in that Duty. Section 3 states that the Duty extends to;

  • the provision and maintenance of a work environment without risks to health and safety,
  • the provision and maintenance of safe plant and structures
  • the provision of any information, training, instruction or supervision that is necessary to ensure their health and safety

The Act also states that, “A duty cannot be transferred to another person”. This means that as a PCBU you cannot transfer your duty to a third party. For example, if you as the PCBU have a height safety system designed and installed, you have a Duty to ensure that the system is compliant and above all safe. If it is non-compliant or unsafe then you as the PCBU are in breach of your Primary Duty. Of course so is the person who designed and installed the system. Section 16 states-

(1) More than 1 person can concurrently have the same duty

(2) Each duty holder must comply with that duty to the standard required by this Act even if another duty holder has the same duty

(3) If more than 1 person has a duty for the same matter, each person –

(a) retains responsibility for the person’s duty in relation to the matter

Therefore you as the PCBU will jointly hold with the height safety system installers the Primary Duty to ensure that the system is compliant and safe. Their breach does not remove your Duty and you would both be open to potential prosecution.

We see examples of this exact situation all the time where a building manager/owner/builder etc will request three quotes for a height safety system. Often they will choose the quote which has the lowest price. However, often that lower price has been achieved by designing a non-compliant height safety system i.e. less anchors than is required, poor quality equipment or incorrect choice of system for the application. This poorly designed and installed system has now left the PCBU exposed to large fines and possible imprisonment. If the breach of duty is considered a category 1 offence under the Work Health & Safety Act 2011 the PCBU may face up to 5 years imprisonment. Many builders believe if they obtain a Form 16 from the installers then they are no longer responsible, however this is incorrect as at no time under the Act can you transfer your Duty.


It is vital that when choosing a company to design and install your height safety system that they protect you by designing and installing a high quality well designed system which is compliant and safe.

When designing a height safety system we ensure that;

  • It is safe and fit for purpose
  • It complies with the relevent Standards
  • It follows the principles of the Code of Practice
  • It is designed and installed to the manufacturer’s recommendations

Call us today and speak to one of our experienced and helpful Height Safety Specialists and let us help you.