Working from height: make sure your staff are coming home!

The football world cup mission to find the champion team of 2018 continues to surprise. Many of the traditional giants of the game are no longer at the table, but England still remains; and can you believe through a penalty shootout?

There are no surprises, however, in establishing the champion accident fatality type. It is, as ever, ‘falling off’ things. Almost half of the fatal injuries over the last five years were accounted for by just two different accident types, the largest of which is falls from height. This accounted for an average of 40 fatal injuries per year (28% of the total). 

In 2017, three members of management from one company were jailed for 20 months and the company was fined £300,000 following the death of a 25-year-old, father of one, who fell from a roof he was working on without safety equipment and in windy conditions.

More recently, two prosecutions in May of this year saw construction giant BAM Nuttall fined £900,000 after a painter fell through a fragile railway station ceiling and a construction trio net a £526,500 penalty for failure to plan work at height.

Who do the HSE find to be at fault in these occurrences?

Is it employees who are not doing what we tell them to do? No. Commonly it is the company and the bosses.

So what do we need to do?

The Working at Height Regulations 2005 applies to all work at height where there is a risk of a fall liable to cause personal injury. As part of the regulations, we must ensure that:

  • All work at height is properly planned and organised
  • Those involved in work at height are competent
  • The risks from work at height are assessed and appropriate work equipment is selected and used
  • The risks from fragile surfaces are properly controlled; and equipment for work at height is properly inspected and maintained.

Where does it go wrong?

Usually at the beginning.

Plan, organise and resource the job in advance. The risk assessment, method statement and rescue plan must be specific to that task and location not one used in a different part of the premises or on a different site. All operatives are to be trained in these.

The following are all requirements in law that frequently get missed when planning and undertaking work at height.

  • Weather conditions that could compromise worker safety
  • Each place where people will work at height needs to be checked before the job commences and every time before use
  • Suitable and sufficient measures to make sure no one can be injured from materials or objects falling or, if it is not reasonably practicable to prevent objects falling, e.g. use exclusion zones to keep people away or mesh on scaffold to stop materials such as bricks falling off
  • Store materials and objects safely so they won’t cause injury if they are disturbed or collapse
  • Plan for emergencies and rescue, e.g. agree a set procedure for evacuation. Think about foreseeable situations and make sure employees know the emergency procedures. Don’t rely on the emergency services for rescue in the plan.

If you would like further advice on managing working at height safely, or any other area of health and safety in the workplace, please contact our team on 01302 341 344.

By Ian French CMIOSHRisk Consultant

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