Working at Height – Getting it Right when it Comes to Health and Safety
Despite stringent health and safety regulations that govern working at height here in the UK, this is still considered the most dangerous occupation even though statistics clearly demonstrate a year on year reduction of accidents and incidents. This is because any incident which involves working at height is likely to result in an injury of some sort, whether serious or not. Even falling from the first or second rung of an ordinary domestic ladder at home can result in broken bones so when it comes to falling from much greater heights, such as industrial access ladders, scaffolding or elevated work platforms, the greater height often results in very severe, life-changing injuries or even death. Today we’re taking a fresh look at how we can plan work at height in order to minimise risks and ensure the safety of those who are working at height and others who are working around or below them.
If at all possible, avoid work at height and do as much of the work as possible at ground level. This can involve using extendable tools at ground level, installing cables at ground level (if practicable) and assembling edge protection at ground level.
The key is to prevent any falls from occurring if possible by using an existing workplace that’s already in use and safe. For instance, a non-fragile roof with a permanent perimeter guard rail. Some practical examples of collecting protection when using an existing workplace would be:
· A concrete flat roof with existing edge protection
· A guarded mezzanine floor
· Plant or machinery with existing fixed guard rails.
Some practical examples of collective protection using work equipment to prevent falls would be:
· Mobile elevated work platforms (MEWPs) like scissor lifts
· Tower scaffolds
An example of personal protection using work equipment to prevent a fall would be:
· Using a work restraint (travel restriction) system that prevents a worker from getting into a position from which they could fall.
If the risk of a person falling cannot be prevented, then wherever possible, the distance and/or consequences of a fall should be minimised. Some practical examples of collective protection using work equipment to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall would be:
· Using safety nets and soft landing systems (for example, air bags) installed close to the level of the work being carried out.
An example of personal protection being used to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall would be:
· Industrial rope access (when working on a building façade)
· A fall arrest system using a high anchor point.
When it comes to low risk work of short duration, then using ladders and stepladders can be the most sensible and practical approach. If a risk assessment determines that using a ladder is the correct way of carrying out the task at hand, then the risk needs to be minimised by making sure that workers:
· Use the right type of ladder for the task at hand
· Are competent to use the ladder (have received the correct type of training) and are supervised where necessary
· Use the equipment provided in a safe manner and follow a safe system of work
· Are fully aware of the risks involved and the measures taken to control these risks.