A large number of jobs involve working at heights and all of them, without exception, are high-risk jobs. Statistics from the Health and Safety Executive show that falls from heights accounted for the largest number of fatal accidents in the workplace in 2018/19. The high-risk factor and the number of falls from height-related deaths necessitated the introduction of new laws meant specifically to address the perils of working at height.
A Brief Look At The Work at Height Regulations 2005
The Work at Height Regulations 2005 was introduced to help prevent injury or death caused by falls from height and is applicable to all workplaces where an employee is required to work at any distance from the ground.
According to the Work at Height Regulations 2005, all employers are required to comply with these requirements:
- All work-at-height tasks must be planned in detail with a special focus on protection.
- A thorough risk analysis must be carried out for each individual work at height job and the proper work equipment must be used to carry out the job.
- All workers involved in work at height tasks must be competent and properly trained with regard to the job hazards and safety aspects.
- All workers must be provided with the appropriate personal protection equipment.
- All equipment being used for tasks performed at height must be scheduled for regular maintenance and must also undergo rigorous inspection prior to use.
- Special protection must be put in place to minimise the risks of working at height on or near fragile surfaces.
Initially, the Regulations included a “6 feet rule”, which meant the above requirements only applied to jobs performed at a height of 6 feet from the ground. This was later amended and the minimum height of 6 feet was removed. The Regulations now apply to any height above the ground if a worker could be injured falling from that height.
While the law holds employers responsible for keeping their workers safe while working at height, employees too must take responsibility for their own safety. If your job requires you to work at height, you must ensure that the standard safeguards are in place to keep you safe.
What You Can Do To Stay Safe While Working At Height
In addition to the safeguards that employers are required to put in place to protect workers from any injury in the workplace, there are also several things that an employee can do to keep themself safer while working at height.
Inspect every piece of equipment thoroughly before each use. All equipment is supposed to be regularly inspected and maintained by the employer prior to being approved for use but it doesn’t hurt to have an extra layer of protection. For your own safety, check out the equipment yourself before using it.
Get any faulty equipment replaced. If a flaw is found in a device, don’t hesitate to bring it to the notice of your supervisor and get it replaced. The smallest crack or defect in a tool or any equipment can put you at risk while you are working at height.
Make sure your personal protective equipment fits properly and is in good condition. A hard hat that’s too loose and easily comes off isn’t likely to protect your head if you fall from a height. A pair of safety boots that are too big may in fact cause you to trip and injure yourself. On the other hand, a pair of boots that are too small can result in other types of foot injuries. Gloves that are either too big or too small can affect your grip and compromise your safety when you’re working from height. If you are given any protective gear that doesn’t fit properly, insist on getting it replaced.
Never use any equipment or personal protective equipment that has been involved in a fall from a height. Most protective gear will experience some amount of damage after a fall. Even if you cannot see a crack in your hardhat, it could still have one or more weak spots at the points of impact. Even safety ropes involved in a fall should be replaced as the fall could have weakened the rope, which may not be as effective at breaking a fall next time.
Keep your safety harness on at all times, no matter how inconvenient it may seem at the time or how much it limits your movements. The safety harness is the one thing keeping you safe while you work at height.
Educate yourself about all the equipment you will be using on the job. Learning the correct way to use the tools of your trade will help to keep you safe while you are working at height. Read up about the purpose, risks, limitations, recommendations, warnings, and maintenance of every device you will be using.
Wear weather-appropriate clothing. This is especially important when working outdoors. The weather can be your worst enemy when working at height outdoors, whether you are working on a building site, working as a window cleaner or a painter. Wearing the wrong clothing in summer could put you at risk of getting sunburn injuries or skin cancer. Dressing inadequately in winter could put you at risk of frostbite.
Practice safety when using a ladder. Make sure your ladder is rock steady – firm on the ground and properly rested against a solid surface, not some weak gutter or glazing. Never carry too many items or very heavy items when climbing a ladder. Don’t overreach when perched on a ladder. You could lose your balance and fall along with the ladder.
Last but not least, stay focused on the job you are performing and on your surroundings. The biggest danger comes from feeling overconfident when working at a height. You get used to working while perched atop a ladder or scaffolding, and because you’ve never had a scaffold accident, you might start to get careless. That’s when things can start to go wrong and you can get injured.
Understanding and practising safety procedures can save your life when working at a height. Both you and your employer are equally responsible for implementing fall protection strategies in the workplace. If your employer fails in their duty and you are injured in a fall from height as a result of their negligence, you have a right to file a fall-from-height compensation claim for your injuries.