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Melbourne Business School takes the high road on fall prevention

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Simon Murray, the property and facility manager of the Melbourne Business School considered all the risks before deciding to invest in walkways and guardrails for roof access.

Mr Murray had to decide whether to install extra roof anchors and static lines or shift towards more passive forms of fall prevention to reach their HVAC equipment. Roof anchors were cheaper initially, while the walkways and guardrails offered a far lower lifetime cost. In the end, the price was not the issue.

The decision came after many hours of research into height safety regulations, prompted by the results of an annual roof safety anchor certification inspection in 2011.

The facility manager believed that their fall prevention equipment was all in order but the annual inspection flagged a couple of issues, which prompted him to seek a second opinion. The first audit report focused on administrative controls, ladders, static lines and anchor points, while the second audit by Workplace Access and Safety put the emphasis on walkways and guardrails.

Though Mr Murray had a good grasp of OHS, height safety was a new subject, requiring him to reconcile the differences between the two reports and the applicable law. In fact, the uniquely prescriptive hierarchy of controls that applied to safe work at heights turned out to be an invaluable tool for Mr Murray. The hierarchy stipulates passive controls such as walkways wherever reasonably practicable in preference to those that demand greater user skill such as harness-based systems.

Their investigation into height safety led to better awareness of the risks associated with roof access. In response, the School kept tightening the administrative controls until finally access to the roof was suspended, though it was not a permanent solution.

He advised the School’s Executive Committee about the realistic risks associated with the situation. The reputed School was determined to honour its ethos by doing the ‘right thing’.

In keeping with the hierarchy, Mr Murray considered moving the air conditioning units to ground level but found that the age and heritage listing of the 19th century building made success unlikely. Additionally, access to the gutters still needed to be made safe.

Mr Murray was reassured by the guidance of Workplace Access & Safety, having read journal articles written by its managing director Carl Sachs, one of Australia’s leading advisors on height safety standards.

Satisfying the hierarchy of controls, Melbourne Business School adopted Workplace Access & Safety’s recommendations and fitted large spans of walkways and guardrails across its tiled roof, providing air conditioning technicians access to plant directly from the walkway.

According to Mr Murray, their HVAC contractors consider the installation as one of the safest places they work on; he is also pleased that only the air conditioning technicians have commented on the installation, given that the building is heritage listed. He explains that OHS is prioritised over aesthetics; in any case nobody visiting the school seems even to have noticed the guardrail as people expect it on buildings these days.

As an added bonus, roof leaks will be minimised with less foot traffic on the fragile tiles. Mr Murray says the biggest side benefit of the passive fall prevention design is its simplicity in comparison with a harness-based system that demands a very complex set of administrative controls managed by a qualified height safety manager, emergency rescue plans, detailed inductions and ongoing inspections and certification, which can be difficult as well as expensive, in addition to ongoing high costs.

Mr Murray advises fellow facility managers to educate themselves about height safety by getting information from compliance codes and regulations, and seeking help from experts, peers and colleagues. In addition to having complete understanding of the risks at the site and communicating them effectively to the decision makers, it is also important to find a solution that’s safe and manageable.

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