Working At Height on Roofs – Fasten Your Seatbelt!
For those who work in the construction industry, Working at Height (WAH) is just a part of the job, often on a daily basis. The most common questions asked when working at height are as follows:
- What sort of planning do I need to do?
- What equipment will be needed?
- What does the term “a competent person” actually mean?
- How do I ensure that I comply with regulations?
Current regulations here in the UK state that employers and those in control of any type of work at height must ensure that the work is “properly planned, supervised and carried out by competent persons – this include using the right type of equipment for working at height”.
Compliance depends on a number of factors and differs from job to job. Issues such as the height of the task, the duration, the conditions and whether machinery is involved in the task. Any job that involves working at height requires these assessments to be made before starting the job in order to identify the processes, equipment and practices that need to be laid down in order to ensure compliance and minimise any risks. There are some free resources that can be used to make these assessments on the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) official website.
Falls from height are still the most common cause of fatalities in the workplace (accounting for 29% of all fatal injuries to workers), even though the UK has some of the most stringent health and safety laws in the world. This means that there are some useful questions to ask before beginning any job:
- Is working at height avoidable?
- How can falls be prevented?
- How can the chance of a fall be minimised?
- Is there a suitable fall arrest system in place?
Asking these questions before undertaking any work at height means that you’re halfway there as far as compliance is concerned and you’re much more likely to prevent an accident.
The most likely cause of an accident when work at height is being carried out is human error. Even when rooftop demarcation barriers are installed and workers are provided with all the correct safety equipment and have undergone the necessary training, their attitude towards safety is a crucial factor.
If you think about in the same way as you think about driving a car. Seatbelts did not become mandatory here in the UK until 1983 (and not until 1991 for passengers in the back seat). When the seat belt laws first came into play, there was a certain amount of resistance to the regulations. However, clever campaigning (“clunk click, every trip”) and years of enforcement have resulted in wearing a seatbelt to become second nature for most of us. It’s thought that seatbelts have saved the lives of around 50% of people who’ve been involved in a collision since they first became mandatory. Reinforcing the message on seatbelts led to a change in attitudes and behaviour over the past 30 years. This type of change in both behaviour and attitudes needs to take place in the construction industry when it comes to working at height.
Encouraging people to challenge unsafe behaviour will not only ensure compliance, it will eventually lead to an overall change in attitude and make the construction industry a safer sector to work in.