Personal vs. Collective Work at Height Measures: Which Should You Prioritise?

Personal vs. Collective Work at Height Measures: Which Should You Prioritise?

24th December 2019

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), collective measures should be prioritised over personal measures. But what, exactly, are these measures and why should one be given priority over the other? This article provides a detailed difference between the two and the reasons behind the need for prioritisation.  First, let’s learn what each means and the defining characteristics.
Collective Work at Height Measures

Also referred to as passive measures, collective measures protect more than one person - group or everyone involved in a particular task. Once erected or installed, they don’t rely on the intervention by the user to work, for instance, through the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). They protect all employees without the need for harnesses or restrictive working lines. Examples of collective fall protection include cherry pickers, mobile elevating work platform (MEWP), tower scaffolds, and scaffolds, which are reinforced with guardrails, airbags, or nets to minimise the consequences of a fall.  

Personal Work at Height Measures

These are technically protective measures which only protect the user and rely on the user’s intervention to work properly, which includes wearing them properly and adjusting to perfectly fit. Examples of personal measures include work restraint equipment for preventing a fall and a fall arrest equipment which minimises the consequences of a fall. It’s vital to consider the quality and suitability of the equipment. Ensure to look for CE marked fabrications to comply with workplace health and safety standards. 
Which Should You Prioritise, and Why?

Collective protective measures are usually the best option that should be prioritised because of the many advantages they present. They require less effort in terms of maintenance and user training, can protect everyone at risk within the equipment limits, and are easier to use. 
Personal measures, on the other hand, can only protect the user and require a high level of training and maintenance to be effective.
In most workplaces, employees tend to be unreliable or less reliable even when provided with the right fall arrest equipment - they can fail to follow the instructions. Also in the event of a fall, if the worker restraint equipment lacks a shock absorber, even falling a short distance can generate very high loads on the victim’s body. These loads could cause severe injuries on the employee, or even lead to a fatality. 

Therefore, collective fall protection should be given priority where there’s a risk of falling people and/or objects. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t use both collective and personal measures. You can actually combine the two for your enhanced safety. Also, the type of control used might not be compatible with one of the measures, and you’ll be forced to use the other.
The Bottom Line

The worker’s physical and mental suitability to perform a particular task is vital. If the worker has any fear of heights, they’ll hardly be competent to work at height even with an intense amount of training. So, before anything else, you need to suitably supervise your workers against the assessed risks. Effective communication of the hazards and the relevant control measures as per the findings of risk assessment should also be provided to the workers. Skill fade is a very common challenge as far as worker competence is concerned; and to avoid this, regular refresher training should be implemented.