10 million workers are estimated to be carrying out jobs involved in working at height every year in the UK. Falls are the biggest causes of death and injury. However, if one uses their safety harness and work at height gear properly (see video below!) all should be ok.
There are some very simple approaches to considering whether to work at height in the first place. If it is “reasonably practicable” not to work at height, then one shouldn’t. It work at height is necessary, one should minimise the distance of a possible fall.
The law (Work at Height Regulations 2005) says that ladders can be used for work at height, if a higher level of fall protection is not justified because of the low risk and short duration of use. The ladder must be secured on level and stable ground. If one is required to stay on a leaning ladder for 30 minutes or more, then alternative work at height equipment should be used. There are a few myths surrounding the use of ladders…ladders are not banned from building sites if it’s sensible to use them…one does not have to be qualified to use a ladder, just competent…and walking up and down of stairs in one’s course of work is not working at height…
Fall arrest equipment and safety harnesses can be used on a work site to prevent falls. For example, a lanyard connected to an anchorage point restricting the distance a worker can go, hence preventing him/her from reaching the edge. A lanyard may have a shock absorber attached to it. The best anchorage point for a harness is above head level. If a worker does fall while having a safety harness, he/she must be rescued within an average of 18 minutes or they may suffer health effects due to suspension trauma.
When erecting a scaffolding system, falls can be prevented by erecting an advance guard rail system. This is where temporary guard rail units are locked in place from below. They are in place before the operator accesses the platform to fit the permanent guard rails. If this cannot be done, workers can wear a safety harness to arrest any falls during its construction. If using a scaffold tower, it should have safety features such as an exit and entry door. Guardrails must be fitted with an inbuilt access ladder or staircase. Scaffold towers must be built by a competent person and inspected regularly.
Mobile Elevated Work Platforms (MEWPs), if used, should have guard rails for arresting falls. A harness could also be used by the worker to further protect them. MEWP’s should not be used in extreme weather conditions as they can become unstable. They shouldn’t be operated near overhead cables or power lines.
So, if one is an employer, controls work at height or works for themselves, then they have responsibilities under UK law. All work at height must be properly planned, supervised and carried out by competent people. All the appropriate equipment must be used and maintained, the work area risk assessed and hazards mitigated against.