Worker falls from double storey roof on construction site

WorkSafe is reminding employers about managing the risks associated with working at heights.



An employee was injured while performing roof plumbing works at a residential construction site in Melbourne's east. The worker has fallen around six metres to the ground. A guardrail connected to a parapet wall was observed on the ground following the incident.

Damaged guardrail on the ground that was affixed to parapet wall before failing.
Figure 1: Guardrail system affixed to a parapet wall

Safety issues

Falls are a leading cause of fatalities and serious injuries on Victorian construction sites. They often occur when fall prevention controls are inadequate, or not in place.

Guardrails are a passive fall prevention device used to control the risk of falling from heights. Guardrail systems need to be adequate in supporting loads that would prevent someone from falling. If a structure has not been verified as safe and adequate in supporting the guardrail system and its loads, the guardrail system may fail and expose persons to a risk of falling from height.

Recommended ways to control the risk of falls

Where there is a risk of falling more than two metres, employers must eliminate that risk so far as is reasonably practicable. For example, by undertaking work on the ground or on a solid construction.

If the risk of a fall cannot be eliminated, employers must reduce any remaining risk as far as is reasonably practicable by implementing the below controls in the following order:

  • passive fall prevention device such as guard railing or scaffolds
  • work positioning systems such as a rope access system or travel restraints
  • fall arrest systems such as catch platforms, safety nets or safety harnesses
  • fixed or portable ladders or administrative controls

Installing guardrails

To install a safe and adequate temporary edge protection system you may:

  • erect a compliant scaffold system up to and around the perimeter of the edge, or
  • install an edge protection system (in accordance with AS 4994.2 or AS 4994.3) that has been designed, manufactured and tested in accordance with AS 4994.1 Part 1: Temporary edge protection – General Requirements

If the installation differs from those detailed above, a suitably competent person, such as a structural engineer, can provide verification and design sign-off.

Note: Installation of temporary edge protection systems, including guardrails and scaffolds, need to be installed by a suitably competent person. If a scaffold is installed where there is a risk of a person or object falling more than four metres, a high-risk work licence must be held by the installer.

When installing a guardrail system, it's essential to ensure the material meets quality standards. This means, it's free from defects and is of the correct size and grade. Minimum requirements of an acceptable guardrail system are:

  • Verification by a suitably competent person that the structural strength, deflection, and condition of the building and/or roof frame is adequate in supporting loads imposed by the guard rail system.
  • Be based on load-bearing capacities required to resist human impact and environmental pressures.
  • Be based on durability needs, considering the environmental conditions that the timber will be exposed to.
  • Incorporate a top rail/handrail between 900mm and 1100mm above the working surface.
  • Incorporate a midrail.
  • Incorporate a 150mm min. high toe board if there is a risk of falling objects being dislodged from the walking surface.
  • Ensure that the maximum gap between horizontal railings is less than or equal to 450mm.
  • Verification of dimensional compatibility of fixings to structural members.

Legal duties

Under the OHS Act, employers must:

  • So far as is reasonably practicable, provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to the health of employees and independent contractors.
  • Provide or maintain plant or systems of work that are safe and without risks to health, so far as is reasonably practicable.
  • Provide employees with the necessary information, instruction, training or supervision to enable them to do their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health.
  • Ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that people other than employees are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the employer's conduct.

Self-employed persons must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the conduct of their undertaking.

Where there is a risk of a person falling from a height of two metres or more employers have additional duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017, including establishing emergency procedures and preparing and following a safe work method statement.

Further information

  • AS 4994.1: 2023 Temporary edge protection – general requirements
  • AS 4994.2: 2023 Temporary edge protection – roof edge protection – installation and dismantling
  • AS 4994.3: 2023 Temporary edge protection – installation and dismantling for edges other than roof edges