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Working At Heights: A Guide

Working At Heights: A Guide
08/11/2021

Working at heights is one of the leading causes of fatalities and major injuries in the workplace, with the food sector, construction sector and agriculture accounting for the highest number of falling from height accidents (HSE).

Step-By-Step: Essential Ladder Safety

Ladders are one of the most common pieces of equipment, both at home and in the workplace. For such an accessible item, why do they pose such a risk?

In actual fact, if used correctly, ladders are not particularly dangerous. However, the HSE estimates they are responsible for nearly 40% of all falls from height investigations. In 2019/20, of the 111 workers killed in the workplace, 29 of them were fatally injured while falling from height. When non-fatal workplace injuries are also accounted for, falls from height accounted for over 5,000 of these injuries. These accidents often result in catastrophic and life-changing injury to the victim.

In a real-life example from 2020, a company in Scotland was prosecuted after an employee fell two meters from a ladder and suffered a serious injury to the elbow . The resulting HSE investigation found that the company had failed to ensure that the work at height task was properly planned and managed, and hadn’t ensured that the equipment provided was inspected at regular intervals and fit for use. The fine and costs incurred totaled £125,000.

This isn’t the only case of its kind. However, many fall from height accidents could be prevented if the right safety measures were correctly applied.

The Law And Ladders

The purpose of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 is to prevent death and injury from a fall from height. The legal definition of “height” is considered to be anything above ground level. Most injuries are caused by falling less than two meters.

It’s a common misconception that ladders are entirely prohibited from use under health and safety law. However, the HSE is clear that in some situations ladders can be a sensible and practical option for low-risk, short duration (30 minutes or less) tasks, provided the risks are assessed and appropriately managed.

Risk Assessment

The law allows for the use of a ladder when a risk assessment has shown that an alternative piece of equipment is not justified (or proportionate) to the task at hand. Duration of the task is one deciding factor, and consideration should also be given to where the ladder is to be positioned and how it will be secured. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that your workforce knows how to use a ladder correctly. Remind employees of the dangers of overbalancing or using ladders alongside heavy equipment, and offer training if appropriate, before this oversight becomes your downfall.

Ladder Safety Checks

The next step in identifying and preventing risks is to inspect ladders for any defects. Audits and visual inspections should be regularly carried out by a competent person, following the specific guidance outlined in the manufacturer’s instruction manual.

Pre-use checks can also be used alongside, or as part of, your standard inspection process. The HSE provide a ladder pre-use checklist, which they recommend should be completed at the start of every working day or new task.

Ladder tags are great accessories to the inspection process, particularly in busy workplaces with multiple types of equipment. Ladder tags are highly visible and easily attached to the ladder to clearly indicate to prospective users whether the ladder is safe to use, when it was last inspected and when the next inspection is due. Ladder tags provide evidence of a robust ladder safety process and can be extremely useful for employers.

Don’t Be A Dinosaur On Scaffolding Safety

It’s safe to say that working with scaffolding today is entirely different from what it was just over half a century ago. In the years before the Health and Safety Act was developed, unskilled workers were literally throwing caution to the wind when it came to construction practices. There were no recognised safety systems in place, no training, no policies, and no PPE. Flat caps stood in for hard hats, and nerves of steel substituted for ironclad policies. These early attitudes are still reflected in so much of the built environment we have around us today.

Despite considerable modern innovations in safety, working at height remains a dangerous activity and is still the leading cause of workplace fatalities. While the National Access and Scaffolding Confederation (NASC) declared a record low number of accidents related to scaffolding in 2020, the organisation cites the commitment of its members to implement the highest safety standards as the reason for the downward trend. The obligation is, therefore, on all scaffolding firms to follow suit.

The Law And Scaffolds

Regarding scaffolds, the Work at Height Regulations 2005 state: “it is a requirement of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 that unless a scaffold is assembled to a generally recognised standard configuration, e.g. NASC Technical Guidance TG20 for tube and fitting scaffolds or similar guidance from manufacturers of system scaffolds, the scaffold should be designed by bespoke calculation, by a competent person, to ensure it will have adequate strength, rigidity and stability while it is erected, used and dismantled”.

Scaffold Planning

Planning and design have a critical role to play in the scaffold safety process. The scaffolding contractor will need some basic information from the user to start with, in order to make the scaffold legally compliant. Details on the site location, expected duration of use, intended use and access are just a few of the details required. The scaffolding contractor will then be able to feed back on safety factors such as whether advanced rail guard systems are appropriate for the specific design or whether users will require safety harnesses. For further information on scaffold design, please see the HSE Scaffold Checklist.

Scaffolding Safety Checks

The HSE recommend that scaffolding is inspected “before it is used for the first time and then every seven days, until it is removed. It should also be inspected each time it is exposed to conditions likely to cause deterioration e.g. following adverse weather conditions or following substantial alteration”. Crucially, inspections should be undertaken by a “competent person.” This means someone who has the knowledge, competency and understanding of the type of scaffolding they are inspecting and or/ may have undergone specific training.

Scaffolding tags are a valuable accessory to the scaffolding inspection toolkit. They offer that extra layer of visual assurance to the user that the scaffold has recently been inspected and is safe to use.

In conclusion, all inspections should be followed up with a report that details any defects or issues that could pose a health and safety risk, and which records any corrective actions taken, even when the actions are made immediately, as this will help identify any recurring issues.

For more information on  Working At Heights: A Guide  talk to  Worksafe.Shop

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