When working at height, appropriate precautions are required in order for staff to stay safe. Working in these conditions presents an array of different hazards for workers to contend with that usually wouldn’t be a big issue at ground level. According to Health and Safety Executive, there are around 40 fatal injuries a year (equating to 28% of workplace accidents) as a result of falls from height – just over half of these were in the construction sector. There is also an estimated 43,000 cases of non-fatal accidents caused by falls from heights. Therefore, being aware of potential hazards and how to avoid them in the workplace is crucial for both employers and employees alike.
Some of the most common hazards are actually minor things that you might not necessarily judge to be dangerous. Some of these are just part of everyday work while others are more obvious. However, identifying these threats is the first step in protecting yourself at work.
Distance of Potential Falls
It might seem simple but the height at which you are working at has a massive impact on the potential damage a fall can have. The higher up you are, the higher the likelihood of a fatality is should a person or object fall from that distance. To prevent accidents from falls, ensure that the work space has safe working platforms. This can include guardrails and toe-boards. Stacking equipment and materials correctly should stop them from being knocked over. This will prevent any equipment from slipping down at a height.
Fragile, sloped and flat roofs all bring with them certain threats. Often when work is being completed on roofs, it is because they are in need or repair or replacing. This does mean that working on them is very risky. Falling through or off of roofs is a common accident. By using specialised equipment such as roof ladders and supported crawling boards, this should ensure the area is safe to work on. Before carrying out work on roofs a full safety assessment needs to be completed. This will ensure that measures are in place to make the structure stable enough to support equipment, work loads and workers safely.
Voids refer to spaces between roofs that are often confined spaces. Working in such spaces present hazards because they have often been left untouched for some time. Therefore, when they are disturbed dust is quite abundant. This disturbed dust can lead to breathing difficulties if correct safety measures are not in place. Also, due to the confined nature of these spaces working in them for extended periods can result in postural issues in the long term.
Having somewhere for the dust to escape and providing sufficient lighting in these areas are good first steps for making these areas safe. Crawling boards again may be required if the structure is not sound enough to carry the weight of workers and loads. Avoid working in these spaces for too long and consider taking shorter shifts with colleges to prevent back and breathing issues in the long run.
Materials and equipment in the workplace will deteriorate over time, particularly if they are regularly exposed to the elements. Poor upkeep of materials can lead to them breaking on the job or falling from heights, both of which can cause serious injury. Regular equipment safety checks will reduce the likelihood of this occurring and make the workplace safer.
The most uncontrollable of workplace conditions is the weather. Rain and freezing temperatures can increase the chances of slipping and falling from distance. Strong winds can also dislodge materials, equipment or even workers. These hazards are out of the control of workers but they must adapt to changing weather conditions to avoid such accidents. For instance, wearing thermal clothing to avoid joints stiffening up in cold conditions and waterproof overalls to stop rain soaking through to your body. These small obvious measures are often overlooked and lead to extended leaves of absence through illness or injury. Linking back to the previous hazard, assuring that the safety equipment is in good condition when working in poor conditions like high winds becomes even more vital.
Knowing what potential hazards to look out for when working at height is a great first step in staying safe in the workplace. The next step is implementing safety precautions to prevent accidents occurring as a result of these hazards. Such safety measures include:
- Using railing correctly at times and ensuring safety belts/harnesses are connected properly.
- Check your equipment still functions effectively before using it at height as malfunctions from a distance can be fatal.
- Use the correct equipment for the job – this means having the correct size and type of ladder and using crawl boards, lifts or scaffold when required.
- Use ladders properly – many workers still use ladders wrong when working at height, remember that at least one hand or three limbs should be your ladder at all times.
- Understand your roofing regulations – these are often misunderstood by many workers so it is best to brush up on them before working on roofs at height.
- Signage – make sure that safety workplace signs are present and clearly visible to remind workers of the safety precautions they are required to take on the site.
If you or your employees have to work at height then your workforce must have sufficient knowledge of how to work safely at heights. By completing a working at height safety course you or your workforce will be properly equipped to complete work high above the ground without running the risk of fatal or serious injuries. Training is demanded by law and the risks of working without it are too high to justify avoiding it. Safety Services Direct have a range of quality safety courses including our working at height course to safeguard against injuries costing you time and money. For more information, please get in touch.