Falls from height remain one of the major causes of serous injuries and fatalities in work-related accidents. The latest figures show that 38 people died as a result of a fall in a workplace in Great Britain in 2010/11, and more than 4,000 suffered a major injury.
A number of accidents involving falls from height have hit the news recently highlighting the requirement to make sure any work at height is properly planned and the correct procedures are in place for the management of the work including the use of appropriate equipment and the management of any contractors that may be working on site.
In one such instance an Essex manufacturing firm was fined £12,000 and asked to pay costs of £4,806 after a contractor suffered multiple fractures to his skull, leg, back and wrist when he fell seven metres to the ground from an unsecured platform whilst replacing a light fitting. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted the company after an investigation found that the work platform used to lift the contractor lacked essential safeguards, including restraint harnesses, any means to secure the cage to the forks of the truck and a back guard to prevent entanglement in the truck's lifting gear. None of the company's drivers have been trained in lifting persons.
The court was told the company had failed to ensure that work at height was properly planned, appropriately supervised and carried out in a safe manner. The company had no risk assessment or safe working procedure in place for this operation, and no procedures in place for the management of contractors.
In a second case a building company was fined £8,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £2,945.30 after an employee was seriously injured after falling over 2 metres whilst undertaking a roof installation on a property in Wales. His colleague also fell but fortunately sustained no injuries.
The two men were standing on an old wooden roof beam in order to receive A-frame trusses from a telehander and assemble them into position when the beam broke in half and both men fell inwards to the ground below. One of the men hit the edge of a disused bath tub beneath sustaining injury.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that although there was scaffolding in place around the exterior of the building, there were no measures in place to prevent workers falling from height within the building, such as birdcage scaffolding or mobile elevated work platforms.
The investigation also found that the company’s own site-specific risk assessment identified that the work activity would involve working at height above two metres and identified 'appropriate scaffolding' as a necessary precaution to take.
The provisions of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and other relevant health and safety legislation, reflect the risks arising from work at height and the standards required to protect workers engaged in these operations. The HSE website contains a dedicated section providing a summary of the legislation and advice on safe working at height.
HSE Safety Notice – Hooped ladders and the use of personal fall-arrest systems
The HSE has issued a safety notice to alert dutyholders that hooped ladders (with or without a personal fall arrest system) may not be effective in safely arresting a fall without injury The safety notice was issued following HSE commissioned research which concluded that:
- There is no evidence that hoops (also known as cages) on ladders provide complete fall arrest capability
- Conversely if a fall arrest system is used there is a risk that the hoops can compromise its operation or effectiveness in preventing injury
HSE Recommended Action
Dutyholders should be aware that the hoops of a ladder alone may not be effective in safely arresting a fall without injury. The HSE are advising dutyholders to review their risk assessments and consider if additional fall protection is required or alternative means of access supplied.
Where dutyholders choose to use fall arrest equipment inside a hooped ladder to arrest a fall they should be aware that hoops may interfere with the operation of some types of fall arrest equipment (for example inertia reel devices). Dutyholders should contact their manufacturer or supplier for advice on the performance of such equipment when used in a hooped ladder.
Users of fall arrest equipment inside a caged ladder should also be aware of the possibility of injury from striking the cage following a fall. The use of climbing helmets to reduce the risk of injury may need to be considered.