Case Study

Suspension Intolerance Safe At Heights Queensland Suspension Intolerance 1

Suspension Intolerance


According to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics it was estimated that there were over 212,000 industrial related falls that resulted in serious injury in 2009. In Australia according to Safe Work Australia over the five years from 2007–08 to 2011–12, a total of 211 Construction workers died from work-related injuries. Falls from height accounted for 51 of the 211 fatalities.

In January 2012 legislation came into force which requires the risk of falls to be properly addressed. This has resulted in more fall arrest systems being installed and used. This is a great step forward in improving the safety of workers when at heights. However what is not being addressed adequately is rescue. In particular managing the risk of suspension trauma.

There are four main sources of legislation that must be complied with when working at heights. They are;

  • The Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (the Act)
  • The Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 (the Regulation)
  • Managing the Risk of Falls at Workplaces Code of Practice 2011 (the Code of Practice)
  • AS1891.4

In a nut shell, whenever someone is required to work at heights steps must be taken in accordance with the hierarchy of control to manage the fall hazard. Section 19 of the Act gives a “Primary Duty of Care” to the Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) to do all that is reasonably practicable to ensure the health and safety of workers. Section 19(3)f states that part of this primary duty of care includes “the provision of any information, training, instruction or supervision that is necessary to protect all persons from risks to their health and safety arising from work carried out as part of the conduct of the business or undertaking”.

Part of managing the risk of falls is the provision for rescue. Section 80 of the Regulation gives clear instructions that the PCBU must establish emergency procedures which are tested and proved effective. It also states in subsection 4 that the PCBU “must provide relevant workers with suitable and adequate information, training and instruction in relation to the emergency procedures”.

Section 9.2 of the Code of Practice discusses the issue of suspension intolerance and the importance of ensuring that all workers are trained in rescue so that a rescue can be executed in under 5 minutes.

As more and more fall arrest systems are installed and used, the risk of injury or death will shift from the actual fall to injury or death from a slow rescue and the subsequent suspension intolerance. Before anyone uses a fall arrest system the following points must be ticked off;

  • Is the system installed correctly and certified?
  • Is there a User Manual for the system which specifies a form of rescue?
  • Have all workers been trained in height safety and rescue and deemed competent?
  • Is there a rescue kit onsite and at the location ready for quick deployment?
  • Are you as the PCBU satisfied that if a fall occurs the equipment available and the skill level of the workers are such that a rescue can be successfully executed in under 5 minutes?

If the answer to any of the above questions is no, then work should not commence. For further information on rescue please contact Safe @ Heights Pty Ltd.

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