Accidents while working at height continue to be a major contributor to recorded injuries and deaths for British workers. According to the most recent workplace safety statistics published by the HSE, more than half of employees cite slips, trips or falls as a risk factor when doing their jobs.
Working at any height always involves risk
Almost every activity conducted above floor level is classed as working at height. So, whether your employee is reaching for boxes on a low shelf using a moveable step-type device or working on a building site covered in scaffolding, both employees are technically working at height.
Although the moveable step scenario seems far less risky, there is still a risk of serious injury should the employee fall. Broken limbs, sprains and even serious brain injuries have all been caused by relatively small falls, so you should approach any ‘working at height’ scenario with the same attention to risk.
Mastering the basics
Like most health and safety issues, the key to preventing accidents is to exercise common sense. When assessing a task, simply consider the following:
- The person involved in the task – do they have sufficient skills and training to do the job safely?
- The equipment involved in the task – is it well maintained, does it conform to the necessary standards and can it be secured in place?
- The environment – are there any contributing risk factors that need to be addressed before work begins, such as having a level floor, or the presence of overhead cables?
Answering these most fundamental questions will help you flesh out a workable risk assessment that better protects your employees.
Your risk assessment also needs to place some responsibility on the user for checking that their equipment is safe and ready to use before beginning work. Every time a ladder is deployed, your employees need to check the condition of the equipment, including the condition of the feet and rungs themselves. The HSE website provides very useful photographic references in its Work at Height section (see ‘types of equipment’) to use for training.
Employees will need to know how the equipment is set up, how it is secured, and the placement of handholds and similar to assist with keeping their balance. Beyond the equipment itself, training should cover the minimum number of contact points required to work safely on a ladder.
Again, the HSE’s Work at Height website section provides a useful Work at Height Access equipment Information Toolkit (WAIT) to help narrow down the list of appropriate options. Using WAIT will greatly assist in improving your risk assessment.
Choice of equipment
In the same way that a claw hammer is unsuitable for driving piles, a stepladder is the wrong choice of equipment to access external fittings several storeys above the ground. Again, there are basic factors that will help you define the right ladder/platform/scaffolding for a job:
- Whether a step or leaning ladder is most suitable. Some jobs will need more extensive support, such as scaffolding. Others may even require rope access.
- The load-bearing capabilities of ladders that will be used to transport heavy goods and materials.
- The actual maximum height at which the task will be carried out.
The right tools are essential for getting the job done and protecting your employees against injury.
As well as your responsibilities under the Health and Safety at Work Act, there are other regulations that apply, such as the Working at Height Regulations 2005 (WAH). Staying on top of these developments are vital to keeping your projects legal, and your workers safe – which means keeping a close eye on new developments.
Back in April, the British Standards Institution code of practice for the safe use of construction hoists was revised, for instance. The first update in ten years, BS 7212 has been revised to include additional requirements for maintenance, inspection and routine examination of hoists installed on-site. This may not be directly related to working at height, but the code has a bearing on the safety of your workers.
If keeping up to date is too time consuming, your business should consider partnering with an advice service (such as Veritas Consulting) to provide specific advice whenever needed.
Don’t forget your subcontractors
Your site safety provisions must also cover subcontractors – those working at height, and any responsible for related tasks, such as assembling tower scaffolding. You should make sure that they have up-to-date skills related to the tasks you have employed them to do, such as holding a valid PASMA card, from the trade association for the mobile access tower industry (www.pasma.co.uk).
Monitor subcontractors’ performance and remedy problems as the job progresses – these checks will help to address problems before they can result in an accident.
Workplace safety standards continue to improve, causing a reduction in the number of employee injuries and fatalities reported every year. However, any job that involves working at height still presents a real, manageable risk to your workers. For more help and advice, do get in touch.