Home >Planning, competence and seeking expert advise will ensure safe work at height

Planning, competence and seeking expert advise will ensure safe work at height

10 April 2019

Preventing falls from height was the subject discussed by a panel of experts from the work at height industry in the HSM Knowledge Exchange this afternoon (Wednesday).

Session moderator Louis Wustemann set the scene by highlighting that falls from height are still a serious concern, being responsible for between a quarter and a third of all work-related fatalities. “Not only does that have a cost for the individuals themselves,” he said, “but it also costs their employers, particularly now that the courts are imposing huge fines in relation to such incidents. The recent fine of £1.8 million on Karro Foods is an example of how, even when there is no fatality, the cost to employers who don’t ensure the safety of their people working at height can be considerable.”

The floor was then opened up to questions, the first of which was: what are the most common causes of work-at-height failures? Tony Seddon, of FASET, felt it is lack of knowledge. He said: “No safety professional can be expert in everything. You need to recognise that and seek expert assistance.” Jason Carlton, representing PASMA, added: “Lack of planning is almost always a factor. In terms of work of height, it is fundamental.”

The NASC’s Stephen Allen-Tidy agreed: “It all starts with the client, principal contractor and principal designer, under the CDM Regulations. I would argue that, at this stage, speciality contractors should also be brought in, to share their expert knowledge.” Paul Roddis, of IPAF, pointed out that specialist help is available from all of the associations present today.

The panel were then asked to consider the question of how to ensure contractors coming on to your site are competent to use any access equipment required. Said Jason Carlton: “Competence is about having and being able to demonstrate skills and experience. All the associations here today have training schemes, which involve practical and written exams, and the qualifications that result are time-limited. These are one way of demonstrating compliance.”

Paul Roddis picked up on a point Jason made about needing to focus on managers as well as operatives. He said: “The whole route needs to be considered – from manager to supervisor to operator. All need to be qualified to make the decisions they need to make.”

In terms of how to work out which source of expert help is the right one for your needs, Stephen Allen-Tidy suggested: “First, make sure any association you approach audits their members regularly. If you are engaging the services of a contractor, you need to do your due diligence to ensure they have the right competence.”

The final question of the session put to the panel was about clients and those who try to circumvent their responsibilities by passing them on to the principal contractor. All members of the panel were unanimous in their assertion that it is not possible for responsibility to be passed on like this. Andrew Watson, of MRS Training and Rescue, referred to a recent case as an example: “The largest construction site in the country currently is a mine and a big construction client on it, who was being prosecuted for a health and safety breach, tried to go down the route of blaming the principal contractor, but the HSE wouldn’t have it. Liability stays with the client.”