Whether you're clearing a gutter or your employees are working on a roof, any tasks completed above the ground must be conducted carefully with health and safety firmly in mind. Even the shortest fall can result in serious injury, while more significant falls can even result in fatalities.
In recent years, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has reported that falls from a height were the most common cause of fatalities in the workplace, accounting for nearly three in ten workplace fatalities. Falls from a height were also the second most common cause of major or specified injuries to workers.
With these harrowing statistics in mind, it's “high” time that we all got better at looking after our safety when working at height. Whether we work for ourselves or are responsible for the safety of staff, these tips will help prevent falls and accidents.
1. Ensure competence
This is one of the most important parts of ensuring working at height is as safe as possible. After the need to work at height is identified, you must decide whether workers are competent to undertake the task.
This is largely a matter of common sense. If the individual is experienced in performing complex and specialist tasks at height, they're likely to be competent. If the task is new to them, they may require more training or closer supervision during the task. If the job is out of their comfort zone, they must not work at height. All workers should have experience of using ladders safely.
2. Minimise time spent at height
There are often many aspects of a task which can be completed at ground level before completion at height. If there is any way to minimise the time workers spend at height, these steps must be taken to reduce the potential for accidents.
3. Ensure equipment is appropriate
Ensuring equipment is fit for purpose means both safe to use and appropriate for the task at hand. Ladders, for example, must only be used for light, short-term work and must be compliant with BS standards. Regular inspection and maintenance of equipment like ladders must be carried out and recorded, while workers must have received adequate training to ensure they can use equipment of all types safely.
4. Open up communication
One of the best ways to ensure safety is to make certain that workers feel comfortable raising concerns and reporting possible issues to you. The more openly you communicate, the better safety will be, as potential risks are more likely to come to your attention. If anyone feels uncomfortable or ill-equipped for a task, it is essential they are happy to share this and to ask for help. Fostering open and honest communication is essential where dangerous tasks are concerned.
5. Minimise distance and harm
If there is no way to avoid working at height, reducing the distance of a potential fall and the possible consequences of such an accident is another key responsibility. Safety nets, soft landing systems (i.e. airbags) and fall arrest systems are all widely used and can significantly reduce the impact of a nasty accident if a fall should take place.
There are many more precautions which must be taken to protect yourself and workers while working at height. Full details and further support can be accessed via the HSE website.