Working at Height? Be Sure to Take Care

28 April 2017

By Personal Injury Solicitor Judith Gledhill 

Many workers are injured as a consequence of falling whilst working at height. Examples include falling whilst working from a mobile elevated platform, undertaking tree work at height and working from scaffolding or ladders.

Employees do not go to work expecting to be injured, so what safety steps should employers take to safeguard their workers? The legal requirements employers have to follow when employees work above ground level are the Work at Height Regulations 2005.

What Steps Must Employers Take?

The first thing that an employer should do is to undertake a risk assessment, identifying what risks their employees face when working at height.

When carrying out a working at height risk assessment, an employer must consider which jobs involve working at height and which workers are involved in these jobs. Employers must consider whether it’s possible for the work to be done differently, so as to avoid the need for the employee to work at height. If this is not possible, the employer must ensure that appropriate equipment is in place to minimise the risks to their employees and ensure that as much work as possible is carried out at ground level.

Many ‘fall from height’ accidents are caused by workers over-reaching or carrying heavy and cumbersome objects when working at height. Employers must ensure that workers are trained not to overreach and not to overload themselves when working at height. Employers must also ensure that all work equipment is safe, suitable and strong enough for the job.

Beware, Ladders!

Many workplace accidents are caused by workers falling from ladders. Working from a ladder can be relatively safe if the risk of falling is low and the duration of the work is likely to be less than 30 minutes, but the employer must make sure that the ladder is suitable for the job.

Ladders should have non-slip feet and be safely secured in position. If the employee requires both hands to do the job, stepladders should be provided with a handhold to enable the worker to steady themselves before, after and during the job.

Using ladders to work at height can be dangerous unless all suitable safety precautions are taken.

Case Studies

In one case reported to the Health and Safety Executive, a 16 year old apprentice was attempting to mend a door runner whilst being supervised by a more experienced employee. A risk assessment had been undertaken which confirmed that a scaffold should be used, but the supervisor decided to use a ladder instead. The trainee overreached and fell from the ladder suffering injuries as a result.

In a fatal accident case, a farmer died when he fell from a ladder while repairing the roof of a farm building. The ladder was not properly secured in position and slipped whilst the farmer was working from it.

Basic Safety Precautions

Where an employee is expected to work at height, the employer must ensure that the job is properly planned before it’s started and that the job is properly supervised. Employers must, for example, provide appropriate guard rails for scaffolding and consider the use of nets to stop falls. In addition, all employees must receive proper training before they start the job.

If you have been injured as a consequence of falling when working at height, we can help you.

What Does Working at Height Mean?

‘Working at height’ means work in any place where, if precautions were not taken, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury. Employees will be working at height if they:

  • Work above ground level
  • Could fall from an edge, through an opening or fragile surface (for example, a roof)
  • Could fall from ground level into an opening in a floor or a hole in the ground

Working at Height Fall Statistics

In 2015/2016, 37 workers died after falling whilst working at height, making it the highest cause of accidental deaths in work related accidents. Eighteen of the fatal falls occurred in the construction sector, seven in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector and four in manufacturing. For more information see HSE Fatal Injury Statistics.

In addition, 37,000 other workers were injured as a consequence of falling from a height whilst at work, with injuries including fractures, spinal injuries, head injuries and soft tissue injuries.

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