What Steps Can You Take To Make Working At Height Safe?

Industry News By Sarah

If you are involved in the construction industry, you will be dealing with a wide array of safety issues, whether they involve hazardous substances, risks of subsidence, the movement of heavy vehicles and machinery, dangerous power tools, or the risk of working at height.

The last of these is something health and safety courses can teach you a lot about. This is one of the most important areas of health and safety, given the high risks involved in falls, especially when there are hard surfaces below like concrete floors or a pavement.

Risks can come in many forms. Common ones include issues to do with working on fragile roofs and scaffolds, but it also involves taking steps to avoid risky practices such as someone using inappropriate equipment to reach something, like standing on top of an unstable object or vehicle.

The importance of ensuring anyone working at height is as safe as reasonably possible is a requirement of both the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and, in more detail, the Work at Height Regulations 2005. This means failures to do so can lead to prosecutions, even if no incident arises or if one does but the workers involved escape injury.

A case of the latter outcome was recently captured on video by a car dashcam in Buckingham. An inadequately constructed scaffold tower collapsed backward onto the road, with two men hanging on luckily avoiding injury from the fall and also narrowly missing a car that had just passed.

Clive Dickin, the CEO of scaffolding industry trade body NASC, said: “NASC is disappointed to see aluminium access towers being used dangerously, when a properly designed and competently erected scaffolding solution should have been specified and used.”

He added: “The use of the tower falls well short of the legal requirements and should not be condoned.”

Incidents like this will invite investigations from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) even if the people involved are lucky enough to escape death or serious injury. However, many of its prosecutions for failures to ensure safety law is adhered to concern incidents where working at height failures have had catastrophic consequences.

For example, in January the HSE prosecuted a property firm and a roofing company over an incident in which a worker fell off a roof that had no protection in place against slips or stumbles. The worker broke both his legs as a result and the two firms were fined £14,000 and £3,333 respectively, plus £1,619 in costs in each case.

Commenting on the case, HSE inspector Gemma Cox said: “The victim sustained serious injuries which could have been prevented if basic, industry standard control measures had been put in place.”

Falls from height are part of the reason construction is the industry with the highest annual number of fatalities in Britain. In 2022-23, there were 135 deaths in workplace accidents and the most common cause, with 40, was falls from height.

All this shows why it is vitally important to get the training you need to ensure you comply with industry standards, whether securing scaffolds, protecting against falls, providing safety harnesses or anything else. Getting trained in this area of safety will save lives and reduce the risk of your firm being prosecuted.

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