Written by By Graham Willmott, Marketing Director, Safesite Limited
Falls from height continue to be one of the main causes of death and injury, and although much has been done over the years to raise awareness of this issue and to get people to think about the dangers of working at height, some people are still unsure as to who is responsible for this work. Is it the person carrying out the task, the building owner or the company responsible for the management of the premises?
Whether you’re employed directly or are part of an external FM company more often than not, the answer will be that it’s you who is responsible, so before any form of work is undertaken it’s important to remember that under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, you have a duty to ensure the health and safety of not only your fellow employees but also contractors who might be carrying out work on your behalf.
Work at height is an essential part of many jobs including window cleaning, maintenance of air conditioning units, CCTV and electrical equipment, but that does not mean that the person carrying out the work is fully aware of the risks. This type of work can often be carried out by those with little or no experience of working at height and it is therefore of no surprise that a high proportion of fatalities are caused by inexperience or lack of training and guidance. All work at height, whether it is carried out by experienced or non-experienced workers must be assessed for risks, planned and adequately supervised.
Your first step to ensuring safety of contractors should be the provision of a risk assessment to ensure that health and safety is taken into consideration at all stages of the work. When assessing roof safety you must consider how frequently access will be required. According to the HSE, accessing a roof just twice a year is a frequent activity.
Once a risk assessment has been completed and it has been decided that the work at height is unavoidable then the main priority must always be to provide a safe environment and prevent falls from height. The Work at Height Regulations provide a hierarchy of controls and suggested equipment solutions. Collective measures such as scaffolding, guardrails or safety nets are always a preferred option to personal measures that involve the individual wearing PPE such as a harness and clipping to an anchorage point or system.
Roofs typically house many types of plant and equipment, all positioned in different areas around the roof. These will all need to be accessed at least once a year for maintenance or repair purposes so safe access to the roof and the plant/equipment itself is essential.
When the roof is being accessed at the perimeter via a ladder, a physical form of fall prevention such as guardrails should be provided for the initial 2m on both sides as you step onto the roof.
When working 2m from the edge of the roof, a form of demarcation with non-fall arrest characteristics such as posts and chains can be used in order to clearly identify the area where work is to be carried out. Unsuitable means of demarcation include the painting of lines on the roof’s surface or any means of demarcation that is not above the surface of the roof as these will be invisible at night and can become covered by snow, moss and algae.
Care must also be taken when working on or near to fragile materials. With over a quarter of deaths being as a result of falls through fragile material, in particular rooflights, these areas must be identified and entered into all health and safety documentation so that all those involved in work on the roof are aware of where the risks lie. Where possible a safe working platform should be provided along with safe access to the area where work is to be carried out. For larger areas, crawling boards or plastic walkways which are able to support the weight of a person should be installed.
Rooflights can become discoloured or painted over and unless they are clearly marked and entered in to the health and safety report, they will pose a serious hazard to workers. Ideally rooflight covers should be fitted to the rooflight or guardrails used to ensure that those passing near the fragile material cannot fall through it. For additional safety, harnesses and life line systems can be used to restrict the movement of workers on the roof and prevent them falling through the fragile area.
Non user participant systems such as guardrails and demarcation are the preferred option when considering safety systems, however these are not always appropriate. For example, there will be
occasions when short term work is required at the edge of the roof such as for cleaning guttering. For these instances restraint or fall arrest protection in the form of harnesses, mobile man anchors and/or lifeline systems would be the preferred forms of protection, however these should only be used by those who are fully trained in their usage.
Restraint systems prevent the user from reaching an area which has been identified as a risk and so overcome the potential of a fall. These systems typically consist of a lanyard or anchor line which is attached to an anchor point. The length of the lanyard or anchor line is critical as, if it is too long, it will not stop a fall but if it is too short it will prevent the user from reaching the designated working area. Restraint systems must not be relied upon as a means of fall arrest so should not be used if there is the risk of a fall over the edge or through a fragile surface such as a rooflight.
Fall Arrest Systems
Fall arrest systems such as mobile man anchors physically link the worker to a structure by a series of components. A full body harness (not a waist or chest belt) should always be used with a fall arrest system. If the user falls, the system arrests the force and decelerates the user through a short distance.
As these types of system provide individual safety protection they are totally reliant on the worker using the equipment correctly. Before use comprehensive information, instruction, training and supervision must be given to ensure that the user knows how to wear, adjust and inspect the harness. This should include how to check that the gate mechanisms at the anchor and attachment points on the harness are fully closed and locked and that the connector is aligned properly. Users should also be trained on how to inspect the equipment to ensure that any load bearing systems operate correctly and recognise any potential defects in the system.
Many accidents are as a result of poor management rather than equipment failure so if you are responsible for those working on your sites or the sites you manage, it is imperative that you are fully trained in all aspects of health and safety. Common reasons for accidents occurring include failure to recognise a problem, failure to provide appropriate safety equipment or ensure that equipment is being used and lack of proper instruction, training or supervision.
Installing equipment will not necessarily make work at height safe, training and supervision must also be provided so that people fully understand the risks, know how to use the equipment and what the rescue procedures are in the event of a fall. It is important to remember that each product has been designed for a specific requirement so has its own particular safety considerations which need to be adhered to.
Work at height is high risk so it is essential that you ensure that all tasks are risk assessed, planned thoroughly, that any equipment you provide is inspected regularly by competent people and that those carrying out the work are trained in the correct use of safety systems. At the end of the day, it is you who will be held accountable should an accident occur, so if in doubt – ask the experts.
Additional work at height information including advice on your Accident & Fatality Strategy can be found at http://www.safesite.co.uk/downloads/technical.php
By Graham Willmott, Marketing Director, Safesite Limited
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