In 2018, 144 people lost their lives at work. Of those, 18 per cent died as a result of a fall from height. While the number of people being fatally injured at work had been steadily falling, the latest HSE data indicates that it has plateaued since 2011/12.
So, what can employers do to ensure that this rate continues to fall and that all their staff are safe while at work?
Agriculture, forestry and fisheries is the industry with the highest rate of workplace injuries, with construction high up as well.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) recently published a report looking at working at height culture in the UK. It has called on the government to conduct a major review into working at heights policies, Scaff Mag reported.
It believes more needs to be done to reduce the number of people who are killed or injured in the UK each year as a result of a fall from a height and has made four primary recommendations.
Firstly, to introduce an enhanced reporting system through RIDDOR, secondly to establish an independent body that allows for the confidential reporting of all near misses, with the data that’s gathered being used to inform health and safety policy at a governmental level, as well as being shared with industry to do the same. This data should be able to be submitted digitally.
The third recommendation is for the Working Well Together - Working at Height safety campaigns to be extended, while the final recommendation is to adopt a system that’s equivalent to the Fatal Accident Inquiry process in Scotland.
Alison Thewliss, Chair of the APPG and MP for Glasgow Central, told the news provider that falls from height can have devastating effects on workers and their families, and that therefore this should be higher up the government agenda.
She commented: “A lack of empirical data prevents us from understanding the root causes of falls from height. This is compounded by a cultural obstacle when it comes to supporting people to report unsafe practices.”
While the APPG will now request an additional period of consultation as it tries to work out the best way of implementing its recommendations, there is much that those in various industries can be doing to prevent falls from height.
A recent article for Building Design & Construction magazine offered a series of tips for companies with workers who perform tasks at heights to ensure everyone stays as safe as possible.
The five steps suggested by the publication may sound basic, but getting these right means that the chances of someone falling from a height could be mitigated against and reduced.
At the top of the list is carrying out a thorough risk assessment. This should make sure that there is no viable alternative to working at height and once that’s been established, should focus on finding the safest method for carrying out the work, as well as ensuring the appropriate equipment is available, suitable, efficient and in good working order.
This feeds straight into choosing the right equipment for the job at hand. To do this, you need to consider environmental factors, the ground conditions, staff competency levels and have they been trained properly in equipment use.
Once you know what equipment you need, the next job is to source it and to make sure that what you provide for your employees is of the highest quality. Don’t be tempted to save money by buying the cheapest safety equipment you can find. The news provider also recommends having the user manuals to hand so that they can check anything they’re not sure of.
Proper training is another important factor in keeping everyone working at height safely. If you’re in the offshore wind sector, you’ll know the importance of keeping your accredited GWO working at heights courses valid, in-date and refreshed when it is required to be.
While carrying out a risk assessment prior to starting work is all well and good, you also need to make sure that this is updated as work begins and progresses. Part of your staff training programme should also involve showing them how to identify potential hazards and minimise them where possible.
You should also encourage your staff to regularly check their equipment for wear and tear, performance and report anything that could present a safety risk. As a manager, you need to make sure you act on these problems and replace any faulty or damaged equipment.
It’s not only the construction sector that could benefit from a renewed focus on falls from height. The farming industry has a higher than average rate of at height injuries in the UK, with Farming UK recently pointing out that it has a fatal injury rate that’s approximately 20 times the average.
According to the news provider, the statistics show that falls from height have accounted for the majority of fatal accidents in agriculture from 2013 to 2018.
Part of the issue in farming is that many older farmers have been carrying out work at height for many years without incidents, and without taking all the appropriate precautions. The news provider highlighted an incident where a young farmer fell through a roof while carrying out routine maintenance on guttering.
He was working with his father at the time, and it was maintenance that he’s carried out for over 30 years with no accidents. However, following his son’s fall, he’s installed a back rail and safety harness to the roof in question.
Technology is constantly evolving and new equipment is being launched across a range of industries that can improve safety, so it’s important to always keep up to date with what’s available and to find out how you could use it in your industry.
New training standards are being developed on a frequent basis such as the Global Wind Organisation (GWO) revealed that it intends to issue updates for its basic safety training and basic technical training modules during 2019.
Make sure you arrange for your staff to take any new or updated accredited training standards as soon as it’s appropriate, and that you ensure any new team members hold the competencies and industry accreditations needed to undertake their roles.