Working at height is one of the most dangerous tasks in UK working life. In fact, in 2013/14, falls from height were the largest cause of workplace deaths according to the HSE (Health & Safety Executive). Making up almost 3 in 10 workplace fatalities annually, these falls are a serious concern for both individual tradespeople and their employers, making ensuring safety while working at height a priority.
Whether you employ staff who work using ladders or scaffolding, or conduct work at height yourself, safety must be at the forefront of your mind at all times. Falls from height can be fatal, but they can also cause serious injuries. In 2013/14, such falls caused major or specified injuries to thousands of workers – the second largest cause in the UK.
The numbers relating to working at height are sobering, and a stark reminder that every possible precaution must be taken to protect those who work at height, whether they are novices or experienced individuals. To help you enhance safety, we’ve compiled a selection of tips and pointers to ensure you and your employees remain safe.
- Consider skill levels
No two individuals have the same level of experience and expertise on a work site. That means it’s very important to get to grips with just what each worker is capable of. While one tradesperson may have been working at height for many years, completing a wide range of tasks, another may be totally unused to working with ladders.
Make sure you have a clear employment history for every worker before you ask them to complete a task – especially at height – to ensure they’re competent for the job. If they have not performed a task before, or do not have experience working with ladders or scaffolding, make sure they receive appropriate instruction, supervision or training before they attempt anything outside of their comfort zone.
- Keep working at height to a minimum
Common sense dictates that the less time you spend working at height, the less opportunity there will be for an accident to take place. That’s why minimising time working at height is important. If tasks can be worked on at ground level before completion at height, make sure you do as much as you can with feet firmly on the ground before completing the riskier part of the project.
- Use the correct equipment
Any piece of equipment you use to work at height must be carefully selected and maintained to ensure it is appropriate for the task and safe to work with. For instance, ladders are suitable for short tasks but must not be used for lengthier tasks. Equally, all equipment must comply with BS standards or ISO standards. That means regular inspections and maintenance must be conducted to ensure safety.
- Communicate clearly
Communication is essential to safety. If a worker feels unable to express their concerns or ask questions about a task, they may perform it without adequate experience or knowledge. This is a recipe for an accident. Taking time to make your site or workplace a “safe space” where all members of your team feel confident expressing opinions, admitting knowledge gaps and sharing experience is hugely advantageous when it comes to safety.
- Reduce risks & fall distances
If working at height is unavoidable, it’s important to minimise how far workers can fall and how serious falls can be by using equipment such as soft landing systems (like airbags), fall arrest systems and safety nets. These pieces of kit will minimise the severity of injuries if a fall does occur.
The HSE website is a very helpful resource if you want to tackle the risks of working at height and ensure you’re compliant with all the latest health and safety advice. Read up to reduce risks.