A History of Fall Protection

March 20 2018 0comment

A History of Fall Protection

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Working at Height is a dangerous business, and this has been the case throughout history.  Nowadays we’re used to seeing tall buildings and structures; they make up the skyline in every city in the world.  However, in times gone by, the biggest buildings in the UK were the cathedrals and churches.  Looking at the lofty heights of some of these magnificent structures, it can be difficult to imagine how these buildings were achieved without the modern building machinery and techniques we use today.  You can be pretty sure that the safety of the men working on these buildings was not an important consideration and there were no fall protection systems in place to minimise the risk as there are today.

Current Health and Safety legislation in the UK has been designed to ensure worker safety during all building and maintenance jobs.  We have specialised equipment, fall arrest systems, safety ladders, and fall protection posts – a veritable host of solutions that are designed to make working at height as safe as possible.  All the working at height equipment needs to comply with strict safety regulations and there are policies and procedures in place to ensure safety at all times.

However, Europe’s impressive cathedrals were built in historical times – some more than a thousand years ago – when there was no legislation to address the safety of workers.  Sometimes, when we look at these huge edifices, it can be hard to believe they were built so long ago without modern scaffolding and lifting equipment.  How did the medieval builders construct these stone skyscrapers?  Cathedral building began in the late Middle Ages, around the 12th century when building with stone was difficult and dirty work. 

Italian Renaissance architect, Filippo Brunelleschi (1377 – 1446) was in charge of completing the dome on the Cathedral of Florence.  This was a huge architectural challenge that demanded great engineering skills.  Filippo invented and patented a hoisting machine for raising the masonry for the dome to lofty heights.  The dome itself rests on a drum, rather than on the roof of the cathedral and this enabled the dome to be built without the use of scaffolding from the ground. 

If you happen to visit Salisbury Cathedral, you can see some of the original wood scaffolding that still exists in the Tower of the cathedral and get some sort of idea of just how dangerous major building projects were to work on in the Middle Ages.

Tubular steel scaffolding did not make an appearance in the building industry until the 1920s – until then scaffolding had been mostly made from timber.  In 1949 the introduction of Simon Hydraulic Platforms took the building industry by storm, providing a valuable tool for the myriad of massive construction projects that were taking off following World War 2.

Nowadays, we take scaffolding for granted.  The building industry is awash with all types of safety equipment, including fixed walkways and platforms, safety ladders, fall arrest systems and fall protection posts.  Building work is safer now than it has been at any time throughout mankind’s history and this is reflected in the skyscrapers and tall buildings that are a common feature of your city skyscapes today.

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