Working at height remains one of the biggest causes of fatalities and major injuries. Common cases include falls from ladders and through fragile surfaces. ‘Work at height’ means work in any place where, if there were no precautions in place, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury (for example a fall through a fragile roof).
This section shows how employers can take simple, practical measures to reduce the risk of any of their workers falling while working at height.
What do I have to do?
You must make sure work is properly planned, supervised and carried out by competent people with the skills, knowledge and experience to do the job. You must use the right type of equipment for working at height.
Take a sensible approach when considering precautions. Low-risk, relatively straightforward tasks will require less effort when it comes to planning and there may be some low-risk situations where common sense tells you no particular precautions are necessary.
First assess the risks. Factors to weigh up include the height of the task, the duration and frequency, and the condition of the surface being worked on.
Before working at height work through these simple steps:
- avoid work at height where it’s reasonably practicable to do so
- where work at height cannot be easily avoided, prevent falls using either an existing place of work that is already safe or the right type of equipment
- minimise the distance and consequences of a fall, by using the right type of equipment where the risk cannot be eliminated
For each step, always consider measures that protect everyone at risk (collective protection) before measures that only protect the individual (personal protection).
Collective protection is equipment that does not require the person working at height to act for it to be effective. Examples are permanent or temporary guardrails, scissor lifts and tower scaffolds.
Personal protection is equipment that requires the individual to act for it to be effective. An example is putting on a safety harness correctly and connecting it, with an energy-absorbing lanyard, to a suitable anchor point.
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Dos and don’ts of working at height
- as much work as possible from the ground
- ensure workers can get safely to and from where they work at height
- ensure equipment is suitable, stable and strong enough for the job, maintained and checked regularly
- take precautions when working on or near fragile surfaces
- provide protection from falling objects
- consider emergency evacuation and rescue procedures
- overload ladders – consider the equipment or materials workers are carrying before working at height. Check the pictogram or label on the ladder for information
- overreach on ladders or stepladders
- rest a ladder against weak upper surfaces, eg glazing or plastic gutters
- use ladders or stepladders for strenuous or heavy tasks, only use them for light work of short duration (a maximum of 30 minutes at a time)
- let anyone who is not competent (who doesn’t have the skills, knowledge and experience to do the job) work at height
Accidents involving ladders leads to an alarmingly high amount of work related incidents. The use of ladders is usually associated with the perforce of work or tasks from an elevated position. Just last week while visiting a shop at the mall, I saw a pregnant lady on a step ladder placing items on shelve. When I walked closer to her to discuss the matter, I saw that the ladder she was standing on was defective and poorly maintained.
Working on heights is traditionally labelled or classified as a high risk activity. Incident records include numerous accounts of workers killed in falls from ladders. Serious head injuries and broken bones are frequent outcomes from ladder mishaps. Many electrocution deaths are caused by ladders that accidentally make contact with electrical sources like high power lines.
10 Safety Tips – Work at Height
The working height can be dangerous if safety precautions are not taken. You should know that even a drop of a few inches can cause serious injury. Work requiring the use of ladders or scaffolding must be studied in order to eliminate as much risk to workers.
Falls due to working at height account for nearly 500,000 accidents in Europe. 40,000 cause disability leading to permanent work disability — which 1,000 are fatal. The construction sector is particularly affected by a higher than in other areas of activity of serious or fatal accident rate.
Here are 10 tips to apply in your company:
- Identify all work at height done in your business.
- Make an assessment of all risks that may include:
- Workers at height.
- People working on the ground and may be affected by a falling object.
- Eliminate work at height where possible.
- When this is not possible, a full assessment of work at height riskier.
- Discuss control measures to be taken in consultation with various officials / employees involved in work at height.
- Apply these control measures.
- Write protocols and make available checklists to ensure that these are enforced.
- Keep these checklists.
- Periodically re-evaluate the risks, particularly in the case of a change of personnel or if an accident occurred.
- To inform everyone involved in your business rules in place for the prevention of work-related accidents in height.
In addition to raising awareness about the risks, the employer has an obligation to train staff involved in falls from heights. In order to better protect the employees, the employer may invest in appropriate equipment and insist on the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Of fall protection kits including safety harnesses, carabiners and retractors may be used, thus ensuring a significant reduction in risk.
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