A balancing act
17 April 2017
Ken Diable, managing director at Heightsafe Systems looks at why regular testing and inspection is essential to ensure that your fall protection systems remain compliant.
Falls from height are responsible for many serious, life changing and fatal injuries every year. Although the number of incidents in reducing, it still accounts for nearly a third of all fatalities involving the workplace. It is a fact that many occupations require people to work at height and it is here that there have been major advances in safety, due to a combination of legal requirements – such as Work at Height Regulations (2005) and advances in fall protection system design, availability and training. Yet, despite this, falls from height remain the single largest cause of death in the construction industry.
The type of activities where people have to work at height include roof repair, high level window cleaning, gutter maintenance and at the edge of elevated structures. Itis not just limited to the exterior of the building, either. The regulations apply equally to internals and here decoration, cleaning high glass atriums or accessing light fittings to name just a few all come under the same strict work at height regulations.
The main hazards associated with working at height are people and objects falling, usually as a result of inadequate fall protection.
Employers, facilities managers, building owners and anyone else that controls work at height, including the self-employed, can be held responsible should an accident occur, particularly if the equipment is found to be faulty or uncertified. As such they have a legal duty to ensure that Personal Fall Protection Systems are in place and re-certified by a competent person at a minimum once a year and for some equipment, more often. Alongside this is a moral duty of employers to protect employees and members of the public, which is covered by general Health and Safety legislation.
In addition, there are some general requirements contained in other regulations relating to working at height. This includes The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, which cover all aspects of the workplace, such as the requirement that employers ensure that all areas where people could fall from a height are properly guarded or covered. Alongside this is The Work at Height Regulations 2005 - the main aim of this is to encourage the avoidance of working at height if possible and where this is not possible to use the best practicable means of ensuring the safety of those working at height.
An increasing number of building owners and managers are choosing to outsource their work at height requirements to specialist providers because these organisations are often best placed to guide them through the process. The fact that the equipment requires regular testing and re-certification adds further complexity. Knowing when and what needs testing is essential, and is another reason why outsourcing is becoming the preferred route.
Following an inspection by a work at height specialist, building owners and managers should receive a detailed report highlighting any potentially hazardous areas and any remedial action that needs to be taken. It should also contain an accurate assessment of the safety of the roof systems and will identify if any maintenance or replacement work needs to be done. The competence of staff when working at height should also form part of this assessment and ongoing training is essential. This ensures that fall protection systems are only being used if the operator has received adequate training specific to the work required. Once the report is received, it is important to communicate the inspector’s findings and these should be immediately acted upon by the senior management team of a company, as they recognise their responsibilities to employees and contractors.
The majority of building owners and managers take their responsibilities very seriously when it comes to ensuring work at height safety. We are often asked to provide an assessment of buildings for clients covering all sectors and following this, supply an independent review of the current status of fall protection systems. Even with new buildings, the maintenance programme starts immediately, as soon as the construction work is completed, which is why it is important that you have a work at height plan in place on handover.
There are many kinds of fall protection systems available although one thing is certain – whichever is in place it will require an ongoing testing and inspection programme to ensure the building remains legally compliant, and the responsible persons remain protected from any potential liability. Falls from height remain the biggest cause of workplace deaths in the construction industry. However, that needn’t be the case as there are ways that work can now be carried out safely, such as using a harness, guardrail, or any of the other proven methods currently available. By working with a specialist provider it is possible to create a system where risks are minimised, workers are protected and a building owner or facilities manager has much greater peace of mind.