Working at height is the leading cause of workplace fatalities & injuries in the UK. In 2013/14, the Health and Safety Executive published statistics which showed that working at height was responsible for more workplace fatalities than any other professional activity. It also revealed that working at height was the second most common cause of serious or specified injury amongst the country's workforce.
Clearly, working at height is a big concern not just for the HSE, but also for employers and professionals across the UK. With risks so great, making this type of work safer is a priority we must all work together to achieve. Whether you are self employed and regularly use ladders or scaffolding in your professional life, or employ workers who perform tasks at height, ensuring safety is essential.
From inexperienced DIYers and apprentices, to skilled craftspeople and experienced old hands, a fall can happen to anyone at any time, but there are some best practice protocols that can be followed to help reduce risks as much as possible. These five pointers should form the basis of your approach to working at height.
1. Communicate, communicate, communicate
In a stereotypically masculine environment such as a building site, it can sometimes be difficult to communicate openly. Some may find it tough to ask questions and may worry that this makes them seem inexperienced, others may fail to disclose concerns about a particular task, in some cases more experienced workers may not feel comfortable sharing their experience.
All of these communication blocks can make a workplace more prone to accidents in general – especially when working at height. Work with your team to make open communication more comfortable to cut down on problems caused by inexperience and uncertainty.
2. Minimise time spent working at height
It's often possible to conduct parts of an “at height” task at ground level. To minimise the time spent working at height (and therefore the potential for an accident) make sure your team complete as many parts of a task at ground level as possible, before mounting a ladder or scaling scaffolding.
3. Confirm experience
Make sure that everyone working on a particular task has the experience and training they need to conduct it carefully. Even something as simple as climbing a ladder comes with “best practice”, which workers should be aware of.
Make certain that you have a clear understanding of each employee's background and work history, then verbally check experience with any team member before they begin a new task to ensure they have the knowledge to undertake it safely. If they do not, make sure they receive the correct level of instruction, supervision or even specialist training before they proceed.
4. Work with appropriate equipment
All equipment used at any work site must be safe to use and task appropriate. That means that regular inspections and checks must be made to ensure it is in full working order and that every piece of equipment must also be suitable for a specific task. For example, while ladders are suitable for quick “at height” tasks, scaffolding must be used for any mid- or long-term tasks to ensure safety. Make sure any piece of kit you work with is compliant with BS or ISO standards too.
5. Reduce damage and distance
Of course, accidents do happen and it's not possible to prevent every single fall. If a fall should occur, however, you can reduce the harm it can cause by minimising the distance victims will fall and by cushioning their landing. Investing in and installing equipment like fall arrest systems, airbags, soft landing systems and safety nets is well worth looking into.
Keen to upgrade your approach to health and safety? The HSE website is a very valuable resource which will help you achieve compliance and protect yourself, your staff and your business too