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High Risk Construction Work vs High Risk Work: The Difference

In safety, the term “high risk” is thrown around a lot. In this article we’ll explain what is “high risk” under the Harmonised WHS Regulations and the implications for businesses that conduct these types of work. By knowing the distinction, employers, workers, and safety representatives can ensure compliance with the necessary regulations and implement the appropriate risk control measures.

High Risk Construction Work vs High Risk Work

Firstly, let’s talk about high risk construction work. High risk construction work is defined in s291 of the Regulations and includes a list of almost 20 activities. These activities are specific to construction and pose serious risk of fatality to workers. High risk work on the other hand is covered in Part 4.5 of the Regulations with Schedule 3 outlining the classes of high risk work. High risk work are hazardous activities that aren’t specific to any industry yet also pose serious risk of persons getting seriously or gravely injured.

Examples of High Risk Construction Work (HRCW)

Section 291 includes a full list of the types of high risk construction work (HRCW). We won’t list them all, but here are some examples of HRCW activities:

  • Working at heights over 2 metres
  • Working in a confined space
  • Working in a trench or shaft with excavated depth over 1.5 metres
  • Working on or adjacent to a roadway, shipping lane or railway
  • Working with mobile plant
  • Working in an area with artificial extremes of temperatures
  • Working with structural alterations that require temporary support

Although not written specifically for high risk construction work, there are codes of practice that cover many of these hazards. Be sure to refer to them if these hazards are present on your site.

Examples of High Risk Work

Classes of high risk work are outlined in Schedule 3. There are 30 classes of high risk work. We’ll provide some examples below:

  • Forklift operation
  • Dogging and rigging work (with various subclasses)
  • Crane operation (with various subclasses)
  • Boiler operation (with various subclasses)

The vast majority of high risk work classes relate plant operation, with the only exceptions being dogging and rigging. In QLD, scaffolding has also been added to Schedule 3 – this is a good reminder to always access the latest version of the WHS Regulations from your local regulator.

Legal Requirements for High Risk Construction Work

The legal requirements for high risk construction work are outlined in Part 6.3 of the Regulations. These sections place legal duties on the PCBU in charge of the high risk construction work, and mostly relate to the provision and adequacy of Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS).

Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS)

Section 299 states that the PCBU in charge of high risk construction work must ensure that a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) has been prepared for the task.

High Risk Construction Work s299

Section 299 goes on to list some specific requirements for the SWMS, including that the SWMS must:

  • Identify the type of high risk construction work
  • Specify the hazards involved and controls required
  • Describe how the control measures are to be implemented, monitored and reviewed
  • Be set out and expressed in a way t hat is readily accessible and understandable

The SWMS must also take into consideration:

  • Circumstances that may affect the way in which the high risk construction work is carried out
  • The contents of the Health and Safety Management Plan (if one exists)

A SWMS will typically cover a range of hazards and control measures, including:

  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements
  • Plant and machinery hazards
  • Hazardous substances
  • Administrative controls, like training or procedures

Ensuring Compliance with Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS)

Section 300 states that the PCBU in charge of the high risk construction work must put in place measures to ensure the workers comply with the SWMS. This could include measure like:

High Risk Construction Work s300

Supplying Principal Contractor with SWMS

Section 300 states that the PCBU in charge of high risk construction work must supply the Principal Contractor with a copy of the SWMS (assuming there is a Principal Contractor on site).

High Risk Construction Work s301

Legal Requirements for High Risk Work (HRW)

The main legal requirements for high risk work is outlined with section 81 of the Harmonised WHS Regulations, and this states that no person is allowed to conduct high risk work unless that person has the relevant class of high risk license.

High Risk Work Licence (HRWL)

High risk work licenses (or HRWL) are government issue licenses. To obtain one of these licenses a person must complete a training course with an approved registered training organisation (RTO), and upon completion of that course, submit an application to the WHS regulator in their state. High risk work licenses are:

  • Recognized interstate, and
  • Valid for 5 years

If you fail to renew your license after 5 years, you may be required to complete the training course again and apply for another HRWL. To pass the certification course, typically workers will need to:

  • Complete theory and practical training
  • Log a certain number of practical hours
  • Complete a theory and practical assessment

What Are The Exceptions to High Risk Work Licensing?

There are several exceptions to high risk work licensing requirements. These are listed in section 82 of the Regulations and specify that a person does not need the relevant class of high risk work license if:

  • The person is undergoing training and supervised by a license holder
  • Waiting for their application for HRWL to be processed (assuming they have passed their course)
  • The person is completing testing, installation, maintenance, service or repair of the plant

Several other exceptions are provided, however as a general rule of thumb, no workers should complete high-risk work without the relevant HRW license.

PCBU to Obtain Evidence of HRWL

The final legal requirement we will discuss is the PCBUs requirement to obtain evidence of a workers HRWL. This essentially means that the business (or PCBU) must obtain copies of workers’ high risk work licences before allowing these workers to complete any high risk work.

High Risk Work s85


We hope this article has cleared the confusion around high risk construction work vs high risk work. By understanding the difference and the underlying legal implications, safety professionals can better protect their workers and ensure compliance with work health and safety laws.

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