It has recently been reported that a Yorkshire company faces a fine because of a health and safety breach that left an employee with life threatening injuries. The employee fell through a roof that wasn’t stable. According to the HSE statistics reports, in 2013, RIDDOR reported falls from height as having resulted in the most common cause of fatalities. Slips and trips were the most common cause of injuries. Falls usually occur from ladders or through fragile roofs. Sometimes there is not a clear distinction made between slips and trips and falls from height, as many falls are initially due to trips and slips. Slips, trips and falls (STFs) were responsible for more than half of all major injuries and almost a third of seven day injuries. The Work at Height Regulations 2005 applies to all employers and those controlling construction areas where work at height is necessary. The responsibility is to ensure that employees, contractors and the self employed work safely. Employees also have a legal duty to take care of themselves and how others are affected by their actions. All work at height must be properly planned, supervised and carried out by competent and trained personnel. All work at height areas need to be risk assessed, the risks eliminated or controlled, an emergency safety system to be put in place, a good practice work system, good communication and all workers to have PPE and be trained.
A few simple steps can totally eliminate risk or at least bring it down to a safe working level:
- Can you prevent working at height all together?
This should be the very first approach. Examples can include using extendable tools from the ground so one does not need to climb up a ladder, for example, some window cleaning equipment have very long extendable cleaning equipment. Another example, is the option of installing cables at ground level rather than at high levels off the ground, if this can be done.
- Can you prevent a fall from occurring?
If this is at all possible, this should be done. For example, using an existing safe place of work that can be used to access the new work area, plant or machinery with guard rails around it (e.g mobile elevating work platforms), a guarded mezzanine floor to break any falls. Personal protection equipment could include using a travel restricted system, so that the worker cannot get into a fall position
- If you cannot prevent a fall from occurring, can you minimize the distance and/or consequences of a fall?
If the risk of a worker falling remains, practical steps must be taken to minimize this risk or the consequences of it. Examples include using safety nets, soft landing platforms, air bags – all close to and within the path of the work area.
- Is the work of low risk and short duration?
Ladders may be the practical option here. If the risk assessment determines that it is ok to use a ladder or stepladder, further precautions must be put in place to ensure that the correct step/ladder for the job is used, that the staff are trained in how to use it safely and all users are fully aware of the risks and know how to control them.
Informational video on slips, trips and falls from the HSE