The risk of working at heights

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In 2004/ 2005 53 people died in the UK and nearly 3,800 were seriously injured as a result of a result of a workplace fall. Falls are the most common cause of death at work.

If you work at height for any task then your employer has a duty under the Working at Height regulations which places a duty of care on employers to protect their employees safety at all times who may be at risk of personal injury from a fall from height.

Latest projects launched by the Health and Safety Executive highlight the risk to the health of workers who conduct duties whilst at height but do insist that this does not mean a ban on the use of ladders as previously reported in the media.

The working at height regulations do not outright the ban in the use of stepladders but place emphasis to employers that they must carry out a suitable and sufficient assessment of risks connected with the working duties. This also entails finding reasonable alternatives if possible for not working at height in the first place. As an example of good working practice the use of a tower scaffold rather than the use of a stepladder is always the safer option.

Designers also have a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act to design products which do not place people at risk during maintenance tasks etc. A typical example of this connected with the Working at Heights regulations would be that designers construct windows which can be rotated in their frames so that they can be cleaned without someone working at height or design new coatings which protect the glass and self clean like modern ovens.

The most common area of accidents connected with working from heights are connected with window cleaners, electricians and cleaning maintenance personnel. Recent cases provided evidence that a cleaning company was fined £15,000 after one of its employees fell seven metres fracturing his skull. The employee was cleaning gutters at the time when he tried to cross a roof and fell through a plastic roof light. In another recent case a decorator died as a result of his stepladder collapsing.




Stepladders and ladders should only be used for low risk, short duration work. A visual inspection should be carried out before any use of ladders to ensure the safety of the equipment, any cracks or deterioration of the equipment must be logged and the equipment removed from service until repaired and signed to warn other people of the hazard.

Employer’s management requirements include assessment of risk, suitable safe systems of work communicated to the employee, supervision, task briefing or toolbox talks on the risks connected with the task, training, method statements communicated, using the safest equipment possible and routine checks on the equipment.

The regulations also require all working at height to be properly planned and supervised. With this hierarchy of control measures in place;.

Avoid working from heights if practical.

Provide working platforms, guardrails, toe boards or using elevating platforms.

Providing nets or air bags if a working platform cannot be used.

Safety harnesses but do rely on the employee to wear them.

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