Guna Chandran (GC) Facilities Management Coordinator, Fairfield City Council and Carl Sachs* (CS) Director of Workplace Access & Safety talk to Safety First (SF) about the Council’s new height safety programme.
SF: Guna, you have decided to introduce a fall prevention program. Does it include all your buildings?
GC: The fall prevention program applies to all Council facilities. We have about 250 buildings. About 80 of the larger buildings are frequently accessed by air conditioning contractors and council plumbers. We have engaged Workplace Access & Safety to do an audit of the larger buildings.
SF: What were your roof access procedures before you hired the company?
GC: There was no consistent approach. It was left to individual Council employees and contractors. Basically they accessed the roof if they felt it was safe for them.
SF: Carl, do you see this type of situation often?
CS: I see it all the time. With the best intentions in the world, employees and contractors do whatever they have to do to get the job done.
The controller of the workplace, though, has a duty to ensure that a safe workplace is provided for employees and contractors, and that systems of work are in place. The employer faces increased liability when there is no safety plan, and if the contractor falls in this situation, the employer would definitely be liable.
SF: Guna, what made you decide to put more effective safety measures in place?
GC: There are couple of things which encouraged us to change our practices: the OH&S Regulations 2001 and Council’s determination to provide a safe working environment to employees and contractors.
SF: Carl, how well do local government sectors understand those obligations?
CS: The regulations are not well understood. Councils are becoming more aware of their obligations and liability but, often, the task simply seems enormous because of the number of facilities and people involved, and many just freeze up. They don’t know where to start, so they don’t start at all.
SF: Why did Fairfield City Council choose a consultancy approach?
GC: We had two options. One was the engagement of a contractor on a design/construct basis for the provision of a safe roof access system. The disadvantage of this approach was that we wouldn’t know the cost of works in advance.
Further, the companies we had discussions with were pushing the ‘roof anchor’ solutions. For us, installation of roof anchors is a last resort solution.
The second option was to go for a consultancy. The advantage of this approach is, firstly we will know the total funding requirements. Secondly, we will achieve a solution not biased towards roof anchors.
The “Consultancy” option has all the advantages compared to the “Design & Construct” approach. It is true that it has an added cost component, but the advantages greatly outweigh the cost.
SF: Why did you have an aversion to roof anchors? Why did you decide to look at alternatives?
GC: Roof anchors are very cumbersome compared to other options and we would have to train the staff to use them properly. Staff members are also reluctant to use them. Further we can’t confidently tell that staff and contractors always use roof anchors to access the roof. Anyone can sign a document that says they are using safe practices, but we want them to actually use safe practices.
SF: Carl, how important is it to be unbiased and focus on safety rather than pushing a particular product or solution, such as roof anchors?
CS: It’s absolutely critical to be totally unbiased and to focus on the liability reduction with the regulations, codes and Australian standards in mind. To promote a particular product or brand without taking a holistic view of the situation usually worsens the situation and creates even greater risk.
Static lines, anchors and harnesses have their place in the hierarchy of controls but they come with a whole host of other requirements like training, permit and induction requirements, annual inspections, personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements and rescue procedures. Often, this isn’t disclosed at the time of sale, and organisations simply aren’t geared up to maintain the controls for these systems.
The client needs to understand the legislation and budget for 10 years of ongoing maintenance, administration and training costs.
SF: What did you find in your assessment of Fairfield City Council?
CS: We found there weren’t many controls in place at all, administrative or otherwise. There were some roof anchor systems on roofs but they hadn’t been installed as part of an overall plan so there was no consistency in approach or system design. The systems hadn’t been inspected and weren’t fit for use. The administrative controls for these systems weren’t adequate either.
SF: Guna, what happened after the assessment?
GC: We engaged Workplace Access & Safety to audit all Council building roofs frequently accessed by contractors and employees, and recommend the works needed to provide a safe roof access system, together with their priority and estimated costs. When we received their report, total estimated cost of recommended works is about a million dollars and obviously we don’t have the funding to implement the works at one go. Therefore we have requested Council to allocate $200,000 each year for the next five years.
Further a small team comprising Council’s OHS staff, Building Trades Group and I scheduled the implementation of works. In scheduling the works, it was decided that priority be given to multistorey buildings over single storey buildings. Also, access to plant and equipment was given priority over gutter cleaning.
SF: Carl, how do you prioritise the works?
CS: During the risk assessment process, we rated different areas as high, medium and low using a risk management process. The Council had a pretty good idea where the problems were, so rather than look at 250 buildings using a shotgun approach, they steered us towards what they knew to be the higher risk buildings.
Once the Council had a risk ranking in place, it was able to prioritise based on risk, allocate funds and get the buildings sorted out. We recommended they put a hold on any maintenance on high risk facilities until rectification works were completed and this was done. If getting work done on a high risk building becomes absolutely necessary, then that particular site will become a priority. We will find a temporary solution or install a permanent one.
The important thing is that Council has stopped the contractors accessing the higher risk buildings and have therefore reduced its exposure.
SF: What advice do you have for other councils?
GC: It’s never too late to begin a safety program. If you do not have safe roof access, you should implement a program like we have done because it is each employer’s duty to look after the welfare and the safety of the employees. Start now!
Workplace Access & Safety email@example.com.