Working at height is one of the biggest causes of workplace injuries and fatalities in the UK. Accidents often involve falling from ladders or off buildings, as well as falling through fragile or unsafe structures like old roofs.
Working at height means working at a place where a fall, in the absence of precautions, would result in a personal injury or worse.
There are many ways in which employers can reduce the risks of falls and injuries when employees are working at height.
It’s all in the planning
Employers must ensure that any work to be done is planned well, supervised and only performed by workers with the relevant skills, experience and knowledge to do it safely. These workers must also use the right sort of tools and safety equipment, like a mobile man anchor, for example, to prevent falls from roofs and other high places.
Look at each task independently – there will be some jobs that don’t require much effort and some that are such low-risk – a sturdy, low and flat roof, for example, that you don’t need to take any particular precautions.
Taking safety measures
First, you need to look at the risks. You need to look at the height the work will be done at, as well as for how long and how often – if someone will be on a steeply-pitched roof several times a day for a week, then he or she will need some protection. The condition of the surface is also important – is it strong enough? Are there any weak spots?
Before work begins, run through this safety checklist:
- avoid working at height if at all possible;
- if someone must work at height, minimise the risk of falls by using an existing surface or workplace that’s already safe and secured, or make sure the worker has the right safety equipment;
- minimise the length and severity of a fall by using the right equipment – shock absorbing lanyards, for example, and
- look at collective protection measures before personal protection measures.
Collective protection involves equipment that doesn’t need the at-height worker to activate it; examples include fall nets, guardrails and tower scaffolds.
Personal protection means equipment that is only effective when the individual worker uses it or activates it. Donning a safety harness and hard hat, or connecting a lanyard to an anchor point are a few examples.
The dos and don’ts of working at height
- do as much work from the ground as possible;
- make sure workers can get to and from the at-height workplaces safely;
- make sure equipment is stable and strong enough for the tasks and check it regularly;
- take extra precautions when working on flimsy or fragile surfaces;
- make sure there’s protection against falling objects, and
- formulate evacuation and rescue protocols.
- don’t overload ladders – follow the instructions and diagrams on the ladders themselves;
- overreach while on a ladder or stepladder;
- rest the tops of ladders on weak surfaces like glass or plastic;
- use ladders for strenuous work or for more than 30 minutes at a time, or
- send someone who is untrained or inexperienced to work at height.