What’s Gone Wrong with Working at Height?
The Building Safety Group (BSG) has compiled a report using the results of more than 20,000 site inspections carried out during 2016 and determined that working at height is the most significant hazard, accounting for 19% of the 24,634 breaches of health and safety regulations. These figures are in agreement with the latest Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics which show that falls from height remain the single biggest cause of fatalities on construction sites here in the UK. Over the past five years, a fall from height has been responsible for 45% of fatalities on construction sites and they are also the largest single cause of non-fatal, accident related injuries, accounting for 33% of all injuries, including 11% of injuries which lead to an absence from work of more than 7 days.
Any qualified construction worker will already know that in order to significantly reduce the dangers of working at height, as much work as possible should be carried out at ground level. When working at height is unavoidable, the best way to ensure safe working conditions is to comply with the Work at Height Regulations. These Regulations clearly describe how all work at height should be properly planned and managed and require that contractors take the time to properly plan work methods and the equipment needed before the work is carried out.
The three main causes of fall from height injuries and fatalities are fragile roofs/roof lights, ladders and scaffolding and many of these incidents are easily preventable. Contractor companies should ensure safe access and egress to a work area, particularly on fragile roofs. A key issue is to ensure that any equipment used is suitable, stable and strong enough for the job. Working at Height Regulations include a requirement to select the best equipment for the job, yet workers frequently use a ladder where a tower would be a better choice.
While choosing inadequate equipment is one cause of incidents, another clear cause discovered was that scaffolding is often incorrectly erected in conjunction with timber frames. The traditional method was that scaffold would be built around a building
When working on a flat roof, it should be assumed that the roof is fragile unless there is strong evidence to the contrary. Using a roof walker system is an effective method of providing a safe route to areas of the roof where work is to be carried out. When combined with a rooftop demarcation barrier, this is an effective solution that will help prevent falls from height.
One issue that contributes to the falls from height statistics is that many companies will just have one set of ladders for all work and these may not be adequate or suitable for all tasks. They may be too tall for some jobs which means that tradesmen will leave them overhanging a wall or the ladder may be too short so that the user needs to ascend too high on the ladder to be safe. This is often seen in companies in the maintenance and response sector of the industry and maintenance workers are often seen working where there is no room to lean a ladder properly at a four to one angle or a minimum 75°.