Working from height can be lethal. In fact, falls from height were the leading cause of workplace deaths in the UK between 2021 and 2022.
The HSE defines work at height as ‘work in any place where, if precautions were not taken, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury’, such as rooftops, staircases, around pits, on steep ground, and even slightly raised areas that might not seem all that dangerous at first glance.
Despite the inherent danger posed by working at height, the risks can be minimised and mitigated with comprehensive risk management and safety controls. This article will explore the many options available for mitigating risks whilst working at height.
What types of hazards are there when working at height?
There are several hazards lurking on rooftops and in areas where work at height is carried out.
Unsuitable or missing edge protection is, rightfully, a big concern. But did you know that more people fall through roofs than over the edge? Fragile roofs are a particularly lethal hidden danger, as there’s no real way to know if a roof is fragile before you step out onto it.
Skylights pose a similar risk. Although these are usually designed and installed to be relatively tough, they can degrade over time, and become obscured by moss or droppings, making them another hidden potential danger.
Other risks include unprotected areas of access and egress, such as ladders, sudden changes in level, and trip hazards such as raised cable beds or pipework.
What is working at height safety?
Working at height safety is a broad term, but essentially covers any planning, risk management, or actions taken to reduce the risk of potential injury when working at height.
A comprehensive work at height safety plan will include the following:
- Risk assessments
- A work at height policy
- Physical controls (e.g. guardrails)
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
It is the responsibility of building owners, site managers, and employers to ensure the safety of workers at height. This responsibility extends to ensuring work is properly planned, supervised and carried out by competent people, and providing the right type of equipment for the work being carried out.
How can you increase safety when working at height?
Although the risk of working at height can never be entirely removed, it can be mitigated and reduced with proper planning and preparation and by ensuring only competent and trained individuals are allowed to carry out the job.
To safeguard workers and make sure work can be performed safely, any work at height task should be carried out according to the work at height hierarchy of controls, which provides a step-by-step checklist for planning work at height:
Step 1 : avoid working at height if possible
If you can avoid working at height, do so. This could mean using a ‘reach and wash’ system to clean gutters or roof surfaces, or making use of a mobile elevated work platform (MEWP) to avoid stepping onto the roof. Architects and designers should ensure that any potential need for work at height is designed out in the early stages of a project (e.g. placing plant and equipment at ground level.)
Step 2 : use an existing safe place of work
If work at height cannot be avoided, then all efforts should be made to designate and use existing safe places of work, such as areas where edge protection has already been put in place.
Step 3 : implement collective protection equipment
Barriers and guardrails should always be the first port of call when it comes to safety equipment, as they provide a passive safety solution that requires no training.
Step 4 : implement Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and fall restraint
Once you’ve explored collective protection, you should prioritise personal protection solutions, such as safety lifeline systems that restrain the worker and keep them in safe working areas.
Step 5 : minimise the fall distance
If it’s absolutely necessary that workers get close to the edge of the building, you should implement a solution that minimises the distance of a fall, such as airbags.
Step 6 : minimise the impact
When other collective solutions have been explored and implemented, you should attempt to minimise the impact of a fall with netting.
Step 7 : utilise PPE
Fall arrest systems – harnesses that stop a worker from hitting the ground – can work to minimise the distance a worker can fall, but these require specialised training to use properly and so should not be relied upon as the only form of protection.
Step 8 : minimise risk with training
All workers should receive the correct training on safe working practices and relevant equipment to ensure they’re fit to carry out the job in question.
How can APS Safety Systems help you with working at height?
The working at height hierarchy is prioritised for you, and you should implement it in your risk assessment and planning from step one to step eight, in order. However, each step is crucial, and you should consider each and every solution properly to ensure work can be carried out safely. APS Safety Systems are Scotland’s largest and most experienced Height Safety, Fall Protection specialists and can support you every step of the way.
If you’d like some advice and guidance on a specific live or upcoming project, or further information on safe working at height in Scotland and the North of England in general, please get in touch with APS Safety Systems today via the form below and one of our friendly team will happily give you a call.