How hazardous is working at heights? The UK consistently has one of the lowest rates of work-related fatal injuries across Europe, thanks to the various laws that protect workers.
However, one should never be complacent. In a recent study, falls from a height remain the leading cause of grave and fatal injuries in the workplace. What are the possible risks when working at heights, and what measures should you take to prevent accidents? Read on to find out.
Accidents Are Still Killing People
How serious is the issue? From spine and nerve damage to traumatic brain injury, the harm sustained from falling, even from less than three meters, could cause permanent disability, or worse, death.
The Health and Safety Executive recorded 111 work-related deaths in 2019/20. Twenty-nine were due to falls from a height, accounting for 26% of all worker fatalities over the year. In the construction industry, roof work constitutes a majority of fatal and non-fatal injuries. The most common causes of accidents are falls from an unsecured edge or through fragile materials, such as roof lights.
Additionally, 8% of non-fatal accidents in the workplace involved falling from a height. The inquiries obtained range from minor cuts and bruises to dislocations and bone fractures. Although not mortal, the injuries can result in a lengthy absence from work, which is detrimental to both the business and one’s livelihood.
What Are the Regulations?
The Work at Height Regulations 2005 is pretty much straightforward: prevent falling injuries in the workplace at all costs. The legislation sets out a hierarchy of measures that employers and self-employed contractors should follow systematically to ensure safety. The steps are risk avoidance, risk minimisation, and fall injury reduction. Only if one step is reasonably inapplicable may they proceed to the next. The primary purpose of this provision is to prioritize prevention before protection.
Here is an illustration of how it works. Workers should perform their tasks at the ground level, where possible, to prevent any risk of falling (risk avoidance). For roofers, who need to work at height, the risk of falling is unavoidable. They may, then, proceed to the next step, which is to exercise all possible precautions to decrease the danger of falling (risk minimisation).
They should use the right equipment when climbing, ensure roofs have edge protection, keep away from fragile surfaces, and limit the time spent at heights. Roof work, however, is naturally hazardous, and no amount of planning or precaution can eliminate all the risks. Therefore, workers should implement measures that would minimise injuries if an accident does happen (fall injury reduction). They can wear a harness or set a net or soft landing to cushion the fall.
Most importantly, the law mandates that employers ensure their workers are competent and have sufficient experience and training to perform the task safely and correctly.
Health and Safety Training
Many work-related injuries are preventable had the workers followed the regulations carefully. The law requires that all companies, especially those dealing with dangerous construction work, create a healthy and safe environment for all workers. One of the fundamental steps to achieving this is through awareness and training. While there is no shortcut to developing competence, proper working at a height training can enhance one’s knowledge and understanding of practices needed to prevent job-related injuries caused by safety breaches.
The great news is, there are several health and safety courses available online. Training is not only a good business investment but may also save someone’s life.