Staying Safe When Working at Height: The Downfalls

Falls from height have become one of the UK's biggest killers in workplace accidents, making up a quarter of all on-the-job deaths. Not only that, they account for more than 37,000 cases of non-fatal injuries, as well as being responsible for the biggest number of estimated working days lost when compared to any other accident.

When you look at these statistics, it's not difficult to see that there is major room for improvement when it comes to the safety of height workers. Yet it isn't only construction workers who are a risk from falls; most industries involve some sort of working at height, whether it's in agriculture, manufacturing, or emergency services. So how can we stay safe while working at height?

Carry Out Risk Assessments
By law, employers and self-employed contractors are responsible for assessing the proposed risks before work is carried out. A plan needs to be created in order for the work to be carried out safely and reliably by all involved parties.

Implement measures in accordance to the result of the risk assessment, whether it includes safety nets, scaffold platforms, toeboards, or double guardrails. The objective is to ensure all work at height is properly planned, supervised and conducted safely.

Check Equipment Before Use
Surface and access equipment should be stable and secure, and able to comfortably support the worker’s weight plus that of any equipment. Whether it’s a combination ladder or mechanical access platform, it needs to be inspected for faults and damage before use in order to establish its safety.

Regardless of whether it's raised 6 feet or 60 feet off the ground, defective equipment will result in serious injury, so regular assessments should be made a priority.

Complete Health and Safety Training
Workers who are involved with regular at-height activities should undertake a working at height training course. The courses are specifically designed for a range of industries and ensure a competent level of ability to remain safe at height (in compliance with the Working at Height Regulations 2005). These can include, but are not limited to, ladder rescue, safety harness inspection, wind turbine training, and tower access.

Consider Environmental Factors and Weather Conditions
Surfaces become slippery when wet, and even more so in icy conditions. Poor surface conditions are not always obvious, so be sure to evaluate the platform or walkway before use, especially for outdoor apparatus.

Avoid working in bad weather conditions, including on windy days. A gust of wind can easily cause someone to lose his or her balance. This is also the case for nighttime working or poorly lit locations, where workers are at higher risk of missteps and trips. Adequate measures should be introduced to combat these conditions, with an option to completely avoid or delay the work until conditions are more suitable.

Beware of Fragile Surfaces
Fragile surfaces are the leading cause of falls from height. Falls through weak roofs, roof lights, non-reinforced fiber cement sheets, corroded metal, glass, rotted chipboard, or unsecured slates/tiles are all common on construction sites, factories, warehouses, and farm buildings. If the fragile surface cannot be avoided, control the situation with a combination of fall restraints, safety nets, staging and guard rails, as well as fixing clear warning notices to the area. All workers, clients, designers, and contractors should be aware of fragile surfaces and treat the risk as a priority hazard.

Get Support from Your Colleague
Having a reliable colleague or team of people to support you while you carry out potentially hazardous work is an easy yet valuable method to reduce accidents. This may be an obvious one, but a lot of people think they're capable of handling all equipment and apparatus on their own.

Extra support for ladders, holding tools, or sometimes just another set of eyes can all be the difference between a job done safely and a serious accident. Nevertheless, this should not be used as a main safety procedure, but as an added extra -- because human error and limited capability can be a prominent issue.

Beth Meakin is a digital marketer writing on behalf of MRS Training & Rescue, trusted specialists in providing health, safety, and rescue training.

Posted on Aug 23, 2017

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