Access to, and egress from elevated work spaces must be adequate and safe for the working conditions and the types of work being carried out.

SafeWork SA’s current compliance audit campaign on managing the risks associated with working at heights in residential construction has identified that scaffolds are commonly used to manage risk of falls with only a ladder to access the elevated work platform.

During the campaign, SafeWork SA received an incident notification advising that a worker had fallen from a ladder and sustained a broken scapula.

The worker fell whilst was carrying a bucket, weighing approximately 20kg, up the ladder from ground level to the working platform.

A key contributor to the fall was a result of the worker being unable to maintain three points of contact whilst climbing the ladder.

This particular worksite, had no materials hoist, crane or a rope and gin wheel installed, to deliver tools and equipment to the working platform.

SafeWork SA Executive Director Martyn Campbell said that the most effective risk control measures must be applied where reasonable and practicable. As such, the expectation is that where stairs can be installed and utilised, then they should be used instead of ladders to gain access to elevated platforms.

“Builders should understand and foresee that their trades will need to climb up and down levels, often with hand tools or other small building materials. Stair cases provide improved ease of access and egress and decrease the likelihood of falls”, said Mr Campbell.

The hazards and risks associated with working at heights are clear and it is the responsibility of everyone on construction sites to minimise any risk of fall.

In 2020, 66% of all known serious injuries in the construction industry were from falls, below two metres, from ladders.

SafeWork SA will undertake a follow-up compliance audit campaign focussing on Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) for high risk construction work. SWMS identify hazards and the controls to be implemented, and when followed correctly, minimise the risk of injury on worksites.

SafeWork SA’s new guidance information on scaffolds – access and egress promotes the advantages of stairs over ladders and details the controls to be implemented when using ladders in conjunction with working platforms. The below image shows the use of a compliant ladder access void scaffold on a residential construction project.

Access hatch to second floor of residential building
Example of a compliant ladder access void scaffold in operation. Picture used with permission: Elite Scaffolding.