Opinion

Walking the tight rope: what to do when working at height

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When Paul Blanchard fell four metres at work it had devastating consequences for him and his family. Tragically, his case is not isolated; working at height remains one of the UK’s largest causes of major injuries and workrelated deaths. But simple steps can be taken to manage the risks of working at height.


On July 18th 2010, a well qualified and experienced builder suffered the devastating consequences of a fall from height. Here Paul Blanchard tells his story:

“As a successful self-employed builder, I knew the importance of following health and safety regulations and endeavoured to put them into practice in my workplace – that is, up until the day of my accident.

“I had been contracted to replace damaged roof panels and skylights on a local farmer’s building. Feeling pressurised to start the job and confident I could progress the work alone, I made my way to the site early on a Sunday morning. I was tired, cold and preoccupied with my own thoughts and as a result, all my usual health and safety measures went out of the window. Wearing no personal protective equipment and without scaffolding, I should have known that tragedy would strike. Shortly after I climbed onto the lower barn roof, I slipped and fell no more than four metres through an exposed skylight opening and onto a railing.

“I don’t remember the fall, but doctors told me that I broke my back, 18 ribs, suffered severe head injuries and punctured a lung. I was in an induced coma for three months and in hospital for a total of six months. My momentary lapse in judgement that day has left me with no sense of smell, damaged hearing and paralysed from the chest down. Never being able to walk again, I have no chance of returning to my former trade and I am still coming to terms with the dramatic changes to my life, and the lives of my family. I realise now that I was lucky to survive, but I can’t help but wish that I changed my actions that day.”

Paul Blanchard’s moving account is testament to the importance of following health and safety regulations and wearing protective equipment at all times when working at height. Through following the advice and simple measures outlined within this article, employers can ensure that such accidents are prevented in the future.

Work at Height Regulations 2005
With falls from height being the single biggest cause of workplace deaths, it has never been more important for employers to conform to the Work at Height Regulations. The regulations came into force on 6 April 2005 and apply to all work at height where there is a risk of a fall liable to cause personal injury.

The guidance on the regulations states that employers have a duty to identify the work involved and plan the work to ensure the correct measures are in place. If the risk cannot be eliminated by collective prevention measures, such as guard rails, scaffolding, cherry pickers or podium steps, the use of correct personal fall protection equipment to minimise the distance and/or consequences of a fall must be implemented.

Before initiating any work at height, dutyholders must ensure that these steps are followed:

  • Identify all the work involved, ensuring the work is accurately planned, supervised and carried out in as safe a way as is reasonably practicable
  • Assess all the risks and document the findings

The risk assessment should:

  • Identify the hazards
  • Decide who may be harmed and how
  • Evaluate the risks and decide on the precautions
  • Review your findings and implement them
  • Assess the assessment and update if necessaryEnsure those involved are trained and competent; this includes the planning, supervision and the supply and maintenance of equipment
  • Have procedures for the selection of correct equipment and ensure that the selected equipment is actually used
  • On every occasion, inspection of the place of work and equipment is required
  • It is a requirement that suitable and sufficient rescue arrangements are made before any work at height commences. This will include having sufficient equipment and personnel who are trained to carry out a rescue. The rescue plan must consider the foreseeable injuries and environment.

PPE Regulations 2002
The Work at Height Regulations offer detailed information on correct safety practices and working methods, however, dutyholders also need to be aware of the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 2002. These regulations state that PPE is to be supplied and used at work wherever there are risks to health and safety that cannot be adequately controlled in other ways. It is imperative that anyone using personal fall protection equipment is aware of why they need it, when it should be used and maintained, repaired or replaced and if there are any limitations. Also, training should always be provided to demonstrate the equipment in use.

All working at height equipment should conform to European standards and carry the CE mark. CE marking signifies that the protection satisfies certain essential requirements and in some cases has been tested and certified by an independent body. Technical and user instructions must also be supplied with the product.

Equipment
HSE’s work at height website provides guidance for employers on how to select the correct type of access equipment for a job. The Work at Height Access Equipment Information Toolkit (WAIT), a free online resource that lists the key issues to consider when working at height, provides details of some of the most common types of access equipment and the factors to consider when selecting the most appropriate type.

Training and competence
As mentioned earlier, it is the duty of the employer to ensure that any person working at height is trained and competent to do so. The person using the equipment must understand why they need it, when and how it should be used, repaired or replaced and if there are any limitations. A full training programme should include:

  • The danger of working at height
  • Employee duties and responsibilities
  • Hazards and risks
  • Control measures
  • Personal fall protection equipment
  • Anchors
  • Dealing with emergencies
  • Equipment care.

Comprehensive training, coupled with use of the correct PPE, will undoubtedly prevent the majority of working at height accidents within the workplace.

Sally Clayton is a working at height specialist at Arco

HSE guidance on working at height is available at: www.hse.gov.uk/falls

 

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