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Safety in High-Risk Construction Work in Australia

Safety in High-Risk Construction Work in Australia

Feb 21st 2023

Safety in High-Risk Construction Work in Australia

Many people who work in construction lose their lives or are wounded on the job each year. According to Key Work Health and Safety Statistics for Australia in 2022, there were 24 fatalities in the construction industry, with a rate of 2.1 deaths per 100,000 workers. This makes the industry one of the most dangerous in Australia.

Safety in the Construction Industry

Safety is a priority for those involved given the risks of working on construction sites.

The Government has established regulations and laws to ensure that workers are safe while they work. Workplace Health & Safety (WHS) legislation includes specific related requirements at the state and federal levels. WHS Regulations specify high-risk construction activities and mandate risk management to avoid accidents.

What is High-Risk Construction Work (HRCW)

In the construction industry, 18 activities are classified as high-risk construction work due to their great potential for serious injuries and death.

The 18 activities defined as HRCW include the following:

  • Work that involves a risk of a person falling more than two metres
  • Work on a telecommunication tower
  • Demolition of an element of a structure that is load-bearing or otherwise related to the physical integrity of the structure
  • Work that involves, or is likely to involve, the disturbance of asbestos
  • Structural alterations or repairs that require temporary support to prevent collapse
  • Work in or near a confined space
  • Work in or near a shaft or trench with an excavated depth greater than 1.5 metres or in or near a tunnel
  • use of explosives
  • Work on or near pressurised gas distribution mains or piping
  • Work on or near chemical, fuel or refrigerant lines
  • Work on or near energised electrical installations or services
  • Work in an area that may have a contaminated or flammable atmosphere
  • Work involving tilt-up or precast concrete
  • Work on, in or adjacent to a road, railway, shipping lane or other traffic corridors that are in use by traffic other than pedestrians
  • Work in areas in which there is the movement of powered mobile plant
  • Work in areas in which there are artificial extremes of temperature
  • Work in or near water or other liquid that involves a risk of drowning
  • Work that involves diving work

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The Value of Identifying High Risk Construction Work

Understanding of the list of defined high-risk construction work (HRCW) is crucial in managing risk because:

Compliance: The HRCW list provides a clear and comprehensive understanding of the construction work considered high-risk and therefore subject to additional controls and regulations. This helps to ensure compliance with the WHS regulations and reduces the risk of legal penalties.

Risk Assessment: By understanding the list of defined HRCW, employers and workers can specifically identify and assess the risks associated with construction activities, such as working at heights or excavations, and implement effective control measures to mitigate those risks.

Injury Prevention: The identification and management of the risks associated with HRCW helps to reduce the likelihood of serious injury or death in the workplace, promoting the health and safety of workers in the construction industry.

By understanding the importance of controlling risks associated with HRCW, employers and workers can contribute to the development of a positive safety culture on site.

Risk Management for HRCW

As mentioned, risk management is an essential component of managing HRCW, and the process starts by identifying the list of hazards on site. The WHS Regulation requires a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) to:

  1. Identify risks associated with high-risk construction work.
  2. Develop, implement, and maintain a risk management plan.
  3. Ensure that workers are trained and qualified to carry out the activity.
  4. Put control measures in place to eliminate or minimise the risk of injury.
  5. Monitor and review the effectiveness of the controls.

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Risk Control Measures

When controlling certain risks, duty holders are also required by the WHS Regulation to follow the hierarchy of control measures. This framework ranks control measures from excellent protection and dependability to those that provide the least positive control. From the highest level of control the hierarchy is as follows:

1. Eliminate the risk

This involves the removal of the danger or the dangerous working practice from the place of employment. This is the control measure that will have the most impact. For example, carrying out the task while standing on the ground eliminates the possibility of falling from a height.

2. Minimise the risk by substitution

This entails that the hazard is substituted with a less hazardous one. For example, replacing an ordinary brick-cutting saw blade with a noise-reduced saw blade will minimise the risk of exposure to hazardous noise.

3. Minimise the risk by isolation

This involves isolating the hazard from people who may be exposed to it. For example, providing barriers between workers and power lines can minimise the risk of electric shock.

4. Minimise the risk by engineering controls

This requires introducing preventive measures that provide a physical or mechanical barrier between the worker and danger. Such efforts include installing guard rails around an elevated work area or using air filtration systems to reduce airborne contaminants.

5. Minimise the risk by administrative controls

Administrative controls may be considered when other higher-order control measures cannot be implemented or when further safety must be ensured. These include creating policies, implementing written safe work procedures, or providing training to reduce risks.

6. Minimise the risk by using personal protective equipment (PPE)

PPE, or personal protective equipment, is a control measure of the lowest tier in the hierarchy of control measures. PPE should only be considered if the other higher-order control methods have been exhausted or if additional security against the danger is required.

Combining control measures

Controlling risk requires careful consideration and a combination of control methods in many situations. While introducing new risks may be an unavoidable consequence of adding or changing control measures, carefully observing the combined control measures' effectiveness is necessary to ensure any new risks are managed appropriately. It will also help to identify any additional risks that may have been previously overlooked, making the overall risk management process more comprehensive and proactive.

Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS)

Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) are critical documents that should be prepared before any high-risk construction work (HRCW) commences in Australia. The SWMS must adhere to the WHS Regulations and provide all necessary information about control measures to protect those participating in the activity.

All hazards and risks associated with the activity must be identified, addressed, and controlled within the SWMS. Furthermore, it should outline precisely how these processes will be implemented safely. It is also essential that any changes resulting from additional safety requirements are updated accordingly to ensure each job site remains safe at all times.

Below are a small selection of SWMS used for high-risk construction work:

  1. Asbestos Licensed Removal Safe Work Method Statement. Removing friable or non-friable asbestos that requires a licence requires a Safe Work Method Statement. This statement discusses the risks and controls involved.
  2. Height Access Equipment Safe Work Method Statement. This SWMS ensures worker safety. The guide explains what to do before and during work at height. It's also about how you arrange your job, what tools you use, and how you interact with other employees.
  3. Overhead Electric Lines - Working Near Safe Work Method Statement. A Safe Work Method Statement must be followed when working near power lines. This SWMS discusses the dangers and necessary preventative measures, as well as the actions of mobile plants and vehicles in such circumstances.
  4. Roof Edge Protection Safe Work Method Statement. The Roof Edge Protection Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) outlines the potential dangers and preventative measures that should be taken when doing roof edge work.
  5. Suspended Powered Scaffolds Working On Safe Work Method Statement. This SWMS addresses the risks and preventative measures connected to suspended scaffolding systems.
  6. Brick and Block Laying Safe Work Method Statement. This thorough SWMS has been compiled to help carry out responsibilities while keeping risk mitigation in mind. It can be used for stone masonry and will assist in protecting employees and subcontractors on the job site.
  7. Bulk Excavations Safe Work Method Statement. This SWMS addresses bulk excavation earthworks dangers and controls. It provides construction regulations for mobile plant mobility, refuelling and electrical hazards.

Manage High-Risk Construction Work Using SafetyDocs

If you're looking for safety documents related to high-risk construction work, SafetyDocs by SafetyCulture can help. We are Australia's leading WHS document provider of health and safety documentation, offering an extensive range that is up-to-date with the latest industry standards and regulations.

With SafetyDocs, you can easily monitor compliance, quickly update documents as needed, and provide training and resources to your team. With our customisable solutions, you can create a tailored safety document library that meets your organisation's unique needs. Not only do we offer SWMS, but we also feature more safety documents for your specific needs, such as:

Safe Operating Procedures (SOP)

Safe Operating Procedures (SOPs) for construction work aim to keep people safe and ensure the successful completion of projects. They outline setup, management, and project completion with safety in mind. Additionally, SOPs may discuss emergency protocols in case of an accident or injury.

An example of some SafetyDocs SOPs can be seen here:

Construction Management System

Management systems are essential for high-risk construction work. They allow duty holders and workers to monitor and control safety risks to ensure onsite performance. This includes hazard identification, risk assessment, and implementation of control measures.

We have several management system documents that are designed to keep duty holders and workers safe:

Construction Management Plans

Construction Management Plans are designed to ensure any construction project's safety and successful completion. They outline the responsibilities of all parties involved, such as the contractor, subcontractors, suppliers, and other stakeholders. They also provide a detailed description of how the project should be carried out, step-by-step instructions on materials needed, and timelines for each stage.

Here are some of our Construction Management Plans:

Emergency Plans

In an accident or injury, it is essential to have a strategy for responding quickly and effectively. An emergency plan should include protocols for ensuring safety, evacuating the site, dealing with medical injuries, and contacting authorities when necessary. Additionally, an emergency plan will help ensure that everyone involved understands their responsibilities during a crisis.

Check out the following emergency plans for your construction site:

You can rely on SafetyDocs by SafetyCulture to ensure that all of your employees are safe and fully compliant with their legal obligations. Contact us today and make sure your workplace is running safely and efficiently.


Available for instant download and supplied in fully editable MS Word format for use in your business.

Please note that the above information is provided as a comment only and should not be relied on as professional, legal or financial advice.

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