The HSE say “Working at height is to work in any place where, if there were no precautions in place, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury (for example a fall through a fragile roof)“.
Falls from height is one of the biggest causes of workplace fatalities and major injuries. In 2013/14 falls from height accounted for nearly three in ten (29%) fatal injuries to workers (RIDDOR). Common cases include falls from ladders and through fragile surfaces. While the number of fatal injuries has generally continued to fall over the past 13 years, fatal fall injury numbers have remained steady. About half of fatal fall injuries to workers were in construction, other industries with high numbers of fatal fall injuries were agriculture admin and support and manufacturing.
Companies who employ staff to “work at heights” must comply with the Work at Height Regulations 2005 (WAHR). In 2013/14 the HSE prosecuted 77 cases under WAHR 2005, there were 73 convictions with an average fine of over eight thousand pounds.
Cases Involving Injuries Sustained from Working at Height
- An employee of Bristol based Western Power Distribution PLC, suffered permanent spinal injuries as a result of falling from height after coming into contact with live electrical equipment. The HSE Inspector said: “Mr Mosley suffered life-changing injuries as a result of the company’s failure to carry out adequate tests on electrical equipment and was lucky not to have received a fatal electric shock.”
- An employee of DGJW Construction Limited of Devon, was working at height on a construction site in Taunton. The employee was installing formwork panels when they gave way and he fell head first over the leading edge, breaking both wrists and four vertebras in the fall. The Health and Safety Executive principal inspector said: “Work at height should be properly planned and the risks controlled. Incidents like this one are unnecessary and entirely preventable.”
- Two companies have been fined a total of £1.3 million following the death of a scaffolder who was just weeks away from his wedding day. The court was told the employee was killed when he fell to his death after being struck by falling debris inside an industrial tower. The HSE Inspector said: “John should have been celebrating his wedding, but instead his family suffered a terrible loss. This was an entirely preventable incident and proper planning and protection from the foreseeable danger of falling material would have prevented this from happening.”
- An employee of TCEL was on a walkway eight feet high when the grating failed and he fell through and became trapped up to his waist in a corroded section of the grating, fortunately without serious injury. The HSE inspector said: “This incident could have been entirely prevented with regular assessment of risks, inspection of work equipment and ensuring correct safety procedures were in place.”
- Two companies were fined for safety failings that led to two workers being seriously injured at a construction site when a cold store collapsed under them. The HSE principal inspector said: “The accident could have been prevented if Sisk had enforced their permit to work system and ensured that workers were not allowed access to the roof lid section until they received confirmation that the roof lid section had been installed correctly and was safe. HIL should have ensured that their sub-contractor had installed the connections between the roof lid and cold store wall in line with the design specifications. They should also have checked that these connections were safe before allowing Sisk access to the roof lids.”
How To Prevent Working At Height Accidents
It’s important, when working at height is involved, to employ the right safety measures and to ensure the right equipment is being used. All work should be properly planned and any workers should have training to ensure they understand any risks associated with the task at hand and how to conduct themselves while undertaking the work.
Assess the Risks Involved
As with all tasks involving any sort of risk it’s important to assess the work to be carried out and to conduct a risk assessment. Where at all possible avoid working at height. If this is not possible minimise the height and take steps to prevent falls using the right type of equipment e.g. permanent or temporary guardrails, scissor lifts, mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPs), tower scaffolds and safety harnesses where appropriate. Factors to take into account should include what height the work will be carried out at, how long the task will take and the surfaces that are being worked on.
Some Simple Working At Height Do’s and Don’ts . . .
- minimise work at height by doing as much of the work as possible from the ground
- train workers in working at height to ensure they understand the risks and how to work safely at height
- ensure the right equipment is used and that is is checked and maintained regularly
- take precautions when working on or near fragile surfaces (on average 7 people are killed each year after falling through a fragile roof or fragile roof light – many others suffer permanent disabling injury)
- provide protection from falling objects (on scaffolds this can be achieved by this using toe-boards, brick guards and netting or fans and/or covered walkways)
- consider and plan how you will evacuate workers if there are any problems
- allow anyone without the appropriate training and skills to work at height
- take risks by thinking if the task is small you can get away without using the appropriate equipment
- use ladders incorrectly – many falls from ladders are as a result of overreaching, overloading, not maintaining three points of contact, poor positioning of the ladder and not securing the ladder properly
- rest a ladder against weak surfaces e.g. glazing or plastic gutters
- use ladders or stepladders for strenuous or heavy tasks, only use them for light work of short duration (a maximum of 30 minutes at a time)