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Protecting Workers and Your Business at Heights

workers at height
15 June 2022

A building maintenance company has been fined £20,000 for their lapse in competent management of work carried out on a roof and gutters in Wolverhampton, resulting in injury to an employee. How can FMs protect their operatives and avoid similarly unfortunate situations via precautionary measures?

Physical labour risks are exaggerated as soon as the work raises off the ground – from falling debris and equipment to people losing their footing, it’s an employer’s responsibility to safeguard elements of the site and cater properly to employee safety.

Work at height means work in any place where, if there were no precautions in place, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury. For example you are working at height if you are working on a ladder or a flat roof, could fall through a fragile surface, or could fall into an opening in a floor or a hole in the ground.


“Companies and individuals in control should be aware that HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standard.”


– Aaron Fisher
HSE Inspector


A Case of Negligence


Dudley Magistrates Court heard that on 29 January 2021 while carrying out repairs works to a fragile roof of a commercial unit, an apprentice employee fell through a skylight. The employee fell approximately six metres to the concrete floor of the warehouse below contacting the racking on the fall. His injuries included fractures to the hip and wrist.

An investigation by HSE found that employees had not been informed they were working on a fragile roof and no measures had been implemented for working on a fragile surface. The company failed to properly risk assess the task and to provide the appropriate control measures to prevent a fall.

Abbots Mead Limited, of Knutsford Way, Sealand Industrial Estate, Chester, pleaded guilty to a breach of Regulation 4 of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and received a £20,000 fine. Abbots Mead Ltd were also ordered to pay costs of £3,873 and a victim surcharge.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Aaron Fisher said: “Falls from height remain one of the most common causes of work-related fatalities in this country and the risks associated with working at height are well known.

“Companies and individuals in control should be aware that HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standard.”


What Does the HSE Advise?


Simply speaking, a sensible approach when considering precautions for work at height. There may be some low-risk situations where common sense tells you no particular precautions are necessary and the law recognises this.

There is also common misconception that ladders and stepladders are banned, but this is not the case. There are many situations where a ladder is the most suitable equipment for working at height.

Employers and those in control of any work at height activity must make sure work is properly planned, supervised and carried out by competent people.

Before working at height you must work through these simple steps:

  • avoid work at height where it is reasonably practicable to do so
  • where work at height cannot be avoided, prevent falls using either an existing place of work that is already safe or the right type of equipment
  • minimise the distance and consequences of a fall, by using the right type of equipment where the risk cannot be eliminated.

These three principles cover the main bases of avoiding risk, but more specifically you should endeavour to:

  • complete as much work as possible from the ground
  • ensure workers can get safely to and from where they work at height
  • ensure equipment is suitable, stable and strong enough for the job, maintained and checked regularly
  • make sure you don’t overload or overreach when working at height
  • take precautions when working on or near fragile surfaces
  • provide protection from falling objects
  • consider your emergency evacuation and rescue procedures


Who is Competent to Work at Height?


You should make sure that people with sufficient skills, knowledge and experience are employed to perform the task, or, if they are being trained, that they work under the supervision of somebody competent to do it. This will be specific to the circumstances – short sessions may require no more than instructions depending on the danger and individual/team, whereas complex and longer duration work may need several levels of planning and understanding checks, due to the unique nature of different facilities and duties. For an in depth analysis of what is required on a case by case basis, refer to the full details provided by HSE on the matter before carrying out an assignment.


Precautions per Person


The above considerations for collective protection should come before individual measures, such as guard rails and site signage, as these provide a base level of protection prior to trusting each person with their own PPE. Proper team training can be vital in order to avoid any forgetful or shortsighted moments with anyone on site. However, statistics illustrate that many incidents occur when working alone and there is not another to watch one’s back. The majority of companies, 68 per cent of the study group, have experienced an incident involving a lone worker in the past three years – a fifth of these incidents were described as severe or very severe, according to research from lone worker solution, StaySafe. In addition, nearly a quarter of staff feel unsafe at least once a year.

Thankfully, long lone working has been identified as a sector in which smart technology can greatly reduce the concern of potential hazards.

More FM responsibilities were being carried out as isolated activities in order to comply with social distancing guidelines during the COVID-19 crisis, and this has spurred a boost in dedicated tools for the market.

The HSE recommends defining a clear lone working policy. Examples of lone working procedures for employees of course include attending any training issued by the employer, identifying and reporting incidents, accidents and near misses and carrying a monitoring or safety device when required.

Cloud-based monitoring services such as StaySafe enable employees to check-in safely and request immediate assistance to their exact location in an emergency. StaySafe has partnered with JLL, the corporate solutions, property management and real estate organisation, to protect 70 mobile technicians, who work alone and often work from height, and to help quickly locate them and send assistance in an emergency. You can take a look at our full buyers guide for lone working apps here.


Picture: workers on scaffolding. Image credit: Unsplash.

Article written by Bailey Sparkes | Published 15 June 2022


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