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Working at Height

There are three main reasons for providing a safe and healthy working environment, (possession of morals, the fact that there is a legal requirement and the financial cost to both employers and employees if it all goes wrong), but as the following examples of recent judgements made still indicate, these are not enough for some.

A construction company has been fined £26,666 for breaching regulation 6(3) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 after workers were put at significant risk of falling from height, including:

  • several unprotected edges where a person could fall a significant distance
  • a floor that was being removed by a handheld breaker while workers were standing next to it
  • No measures were in place to prevent workers from falling if the floor collapsed.
  • The risk assessment had identified measures that needed to be implemented, but they had not been actioned.

An employee was working on a fragile roof erecting solar panels when he stepped on an unprotected skylight and fell some four metres to a workshop floor below. He sustained multiple and long-term injuries to his wrist.  The subsequent investigative process undertaken by HSE deemed that the employer failed to plan or supervise the work therefore not ensuring the safety of persons, despite being aware of the risks. The company was fined £42,000 including costs for breaching regulation 4(1) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005.

A company was sentenced and fined £53,000 where an employee had been fatally injured after falling from the top of a ladder when it moved sideways due to not being firmly fixed in place after it had been inadequately secured to scaffolding by an untrained person. The firm admitted failing to ensure scaffolding was erected by a competent person or that it was erected safely with enough protection to prevent a person falling, contrary to regulation 4 of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. It also pleaded guilty to breaching s33(1)(c) of the Health and Safety at Work Act in that it failed to ensure there was a safe means of access to and from the scaffolding platform.

A solar panel installer has been ordered to pay £182,000 in fines and costs after one of its employees was seriously injured after he fell through a roof.  Despite being issued with a prohibition notice in the past and having knowledge of the requirements the employer provided no training, incorrect equipment and inadequate supervision and, as a consequence, the employee suffered significant injuries to his spine and has been unable to work on a full-time basis since.

A company pleaded guilty to breaching section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act and regulations 4(1) and 6(3) of the Work at Height Regulations.  The court heard that the worker in question was fatally injured when he fell six metres through a skylight.  It was found that the company had failed to risk assess the activities or implement a safe system of work and was subsequently fined a total of £200,000.

The HSE and its Inspectors continuously stress that falls from height remain one of the most common causes of work-related fatalities in the country but despite the fact that the associated risks that come with working at height are well known, some employers just do not seem to be giving this matter the due consideration it demands and continue to place their workers and others in jeopardy..

If you carry out work at height as a part of your activities it is vitally important that the planning and arranging of the activities / tasks are given your best attention and you conduct the appropriate risk assessment and provide a safe system of work.

This will help ensure that the equipment is appropriate to the task, that the training of employees to carry out the task and the use the supplied equipment has been kept up to date and that supervision provided is sufficient to ensure any risk posed to workers and incidentally others such as members of the public or other users of the site where the work is being conducted is minimised if not eradicated.

Before working at height, you must follow these simple steps:

  • avoid work at height where it is reasonably practicable to do so
  • where work at height cannot be easily avoided, prevent falls using either an existing place of work that is already safe or the right type of equipment
  • minimise the distance and consequences of a fall, by using the right type of equipment where the risk cannot be eliminated

You should:

  • do as much work as possible from the ground
  • ensure workers can get safely to and from where they work at height
  • ensure equipment is suitable, stable and strong enough for the job, maintained and checked regularly
  • not overload or overreach when working at height
  • take precautions when working on or near fragile surfaces
  • provide protection from falling objects
  • consider emergency evacuation and rescue procedures

If you are organising a contractor to carry out work at height then ensure they have the required expertise, their documentation is in order (insurances / work equipment maintenance – examination) and that they demonstrate an understanding of the associated hazards by providing you with risk assessment(s) and method statement(s) which clearly denote the task they have been asked to undertake and how it will be managed.to ensure safety both to site users and the contractors workforce.