Ensuring safety doesn't have to be a tall order
14 September 2015
Jeremy Cassady, managing director for securikey, explores why a high level of care must be taken when work at height is required, and highlights the importance of providing workers with high quality safety items.
Trips and falls when working at height are among the biggest causes of fatalities and minor accidents in the workplace. In 2013/14 falls from height accounted for 57% of all injuries reported during work, out of which 29% resulted in an ‘over-seven-day’ injury and an average of 50 deaths that could have been avoided. However, there is also a very real danger of accidents resulting from tools and belongings being dropped onto colleagues standing below.
Solutions for the prevention of accidents related to work at height can be extremely simple, ranging from a thorough assessment of the risks involved to ensuring the provision of tools that will deliver adequate protection.
Classification and the law
The definition of working from height has clearly been outlined by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the UK; it means working from a place where, without proper precautions, a worker could fall a distance liable to result in personal injury. This includes working on ladders, flat roofs, and even ground level surfaces with openings and holes that a worker could fall into.
The most recent Work at Height Regulations came into force on 6 April 2005, and outlines the minimum safety and health requirements for all employers, those who are self employed and any person controlling the work of others at a height from which a fall or a falling object could result in personal injury. These Regulations provide guidance and recommend steps that employers and workers must take, including:
- Avoid work at height when possible
- Give due organisation to planning work at height, taking aspects such as weather and training into consideration
- Take measures to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall, if one should occur
- Invest in proper equipment that ensures not just personal but collective protection from risks such as falling objects.
Put the basic equipment in place
Access equipment is the most widely used equipment by workers for alleviation purposes to be within reach of an area where work needs to be performed at height. The most popular equipment in this category includes ladders, scaffolds, trestles, Mobile Elevating Work Programme (MEWP) boom single users, and MEWP scissor multi users. The safe usage of this equipment is key to avoiding accidents when working at height; they should always be secured, especially at the base, and erected at the correct angle on a level, firm ground. Access equipment must always be positioned close to the work point to eliminate the need for over-reaching leading to accidental trips or belongings falling from pockets.
The next essentials when working at height is fall restraint and arrest equipment which includes safety nets, airbags, and harnesses. Fall and restraint equipment should only be used independently as a last resort when all other practical options have been exhausted. Safety nets are positioned, and suspended directly under the working platform where work at height is being undertaken to provide a soft landing if a fall does occur.
Lastly, retractors for small hand-held tools and other belongings offer a simple solution for additional control and security while working at height. To minimise the risk of accidents as a result of falling objects, areas that are at risk must be clearly indicated, and the correct equipment must be provided so that objects are secured wherever possible. High quality retractors feature a strong, robust cord that can be attached to light tools and objects such as screwdrivers or smartphones, to prevent them falling to the floor if they were to slip out of pockets or belt bags. The cord will extend to the length needed when the tool/object is in use but then retract out of the way when it is no longer required.
Many high quality retractors on the market are built to last even when used extensively in industrial and commercial areas. Perfect for securing a wide array of belongings ranging from simple hammers and pliers to smartphones and hand-held radios, these retractors allow workers to keep their hands free when not operating the tool or device. Many feature a universal gear attachment with a quick-disconnect end fitting, making it simple and easy for workers to switch out or share their tools. Some high quality retractors on the market are water resistant and can be utilised in weather and water resistant environments. Retractor cases provide additional protection for breakable objects such as mobile phones or other electronic devices. The most reliable ranges feature a protective thermoformed case with an inbuilt retractable tether, safely securing items while offering weather, water and impact resistant protection.
Size doesn’t matter
It is the responsibility of employers and those in control of any work at height to ensure that work is adequately and thoroughly planned, supervised and undertaken by competent, trained workers. A complete safety assessment should be undertaken before the work has started, and the correct type of equipment for working at height subsequently provided. Moreover, it should be kept in mind that smaller devices, such as retractors and cases, are easily as important as the larger equipment specified for work at height, such as scaffolds, to avoid anything from a minor accident to a major disaster.