Heading for a fall

A recent successful prosecution by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) against a construction company where one of their agency workers suffered serious injury after a fall from height at a Hampshire marina is a timely reminder of the need to guard against falls from height. The worker in this particular case suffered a broken collarbone and ribs and also a collapsed lung. He required surgery and has not yet returned work, 15 months after the accident. The HSE found that the air bags used to break falls were not properly inflated.

Falls from height are the biggest single cause of fatal and serious injury in the construction industry, according to the HSE. However, it is worth bearing in mind that the duty to comply with the Work at Height regulations does not apply exclusively to the construction industry but to any employer or anyone who controls work at height. Also bear in mind that there is a common sense approach to what is work at height. It is defined as any work which, if there were no preventative measures, a fall might cause someone to suffer personal injury. The obvious examples are working on ladders and scaffolding but it also applies to fragile surfaces (see below) and falls through openings in floors.

In the Hampshire marina case, minimising the consequences of a fall using air bags or safety net is the last resort as demonstrated by the advice to Avoid, Prevent and Arrest. The starting point for assessing the risk should be to eliminate the need to do any work at height and assess what work can be done from the ground.

Prevention is the next stage by ensuring that, for example, where scaffolding is used, it complies with the regulations and has the relevant safety features. Detailed method statements are also essential to ensure that all workers understand the process to be followed and the risks that need to be eliminated.

This is especially important in roof work which is the cause of 1 in 5 deaths in construction work. Aligned with that is the risk that the roof is a fragile surface which is often not sufficient to hold the weight of a worker. Hidden rooflights are also a hazard as some can be painted over making it difficult to see them.  It is therefore essential to obtain an opinion from a “competent person” (such as a structural engineer) as to the safety of the roof surface for working before venturing onto it.

Finally, if work from height is absolutely necessary, make sure that the methods to arrest the falls, are in full working order. Safety nets can also be used as a method of arresting falls and if these are not sufficiently taut, there is a risk of injury. Regular inspection is therefore essential to ensure that the safe working of such equipment has not been interfered with by workers or even the weather.

There is further information to be found on the HSE website here (http://www.hse.gov.uk/work-at-height/index.htm) or contact us if you have any concerns or for further specialist advice tailored to your business.

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