Working at Height: A Practical Health & Safety Guide
Date: 10th September 2018 | By: Claire Malley | Categories: Health and Safety
What is ‘Working at Height’?
The HSE state that “Work at height means work in any place where, if precautions were not taken, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury”. In practical terms you are working at height if you:
- Work above ground/ floor level.
- Could fall from an edge, through an opening or fragile surface.
- Could fall from ground level into an opening in a floor or a hole in the ground.
Working at height does not include a slip or a trip on a level surface, as a fall from height has to involve a fall from one level to a lower level, nor does it include walking up and down a permanent staircase in a building.
Falls from Height: Injury Statistics
Falls from height in the Food and Drink industries:
- Are the third highest cause of fatal injury, comprising 20% of fatal accidents.
- Result in around 80 major injuries (broken limbs, fractured skulls etc.) each year.
- Result in a further 230 over-3-day absence injuries each year.
- Can result in serious or even fatal injury even when the fall is less than 2m.
Within this sector, an analysis of 150 falls from height accidents investigated by HSE over three years indicated the following places from which workers fell:
- Ladders: 40% – each ladder extension is approximately 8 feet in length.
- Vehicles and Fork Lift Trucks: 17% – Flatbed wagon, average height 8.5 feet high. Where workers fell from vehicles, 35% fell from the back of a lorry, 31% fell from FLT forks, 13% from cab steps, 9% from the top of a vehicle and 4% from tanker steps.
- Machinery or plant: 10%
- Platforms: 10%
- Stairs (see below): 8%
- Roof or false ceiling: 7% – Average ceiling height is 8ft. plus 2ft. for the infrastructure
- Scaffold or gantry: 4%
- Warehouse racking: 4%
It is well known that falls from height still remain the single biggest cause of fatalities on site and in the workplace. The factors involved are the force of gravity, the height of the fall, the weight of the individual and just how much the fall is cushioned on impact. This means that the greater the height, the heavier the individual and the less yielding the surface, the greater the force of impact. A fall from metre doesn’t sound much, but dropping as a dead weight, an 80kg man could encounter a force of 100g if falling onto concrete.
To put this into context, in a car crash, a passenger may experience as much as 50g deceleration, and, if secured by a seatbelt could come away with only superficial injuries. At 75g deceleration, the expected fatality rate is 50%. Deceleration over 80g is considered to be always fatal.
There are too many variables to predict if a fall would be fatal by height alone. The person’s physical condition, the surface they land on, the body part that hits first, all will factor into it. The same fall that breaks a person’s ankle might kill that same person if he landed head first.
Practical Guidance for Business Owners
- As an employer it is essential to complete a thorough Risk Assessment before any working at height is undertaken to ensure that effective safety measures are put into place to minimise any risk to the individual and to others affected by the work activity.
- Where possible try to minimise the risk by working from the ground.
- Ensure the right type of equipment or guard is being used at all times. Take into consideration, the area that you will be working, the environment, the gradient, persons affected etc.
The correct Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) must be worn by all staff where necessary i.e. harnesses and hard hats.
- Don’t overload or overreach on ladders. Only use ladders for light work and for no longer than 30-minutes.
- Consider if your employees have received the right training for the type of work involved – only let those who have work at height. Ensure that those using mobile elevated working platforms hold an IPAF qualification. Equally, employees who are building tower scaffolds hold the PASMA qualification.
- Prevent further injury from falling objects.
- Plan emergency evacuation procedures and ensure that all employees working at height are informed and instructed of this procedure.
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