Many employees (10 million UK workers to be precise) work at height so it can be tempting for Health and safety managers to go on autopilot when reviewing this section of their policies and training. However, companies that do not conduct risk assessments, ensure up-to-date policies, and conduct comprehensive H&S training open themselves up to working at height liability, fines, and prosecution. First things first:
What qualifies as working at height?
Anytime a worker is working high enough that a fall could injure them, they are working at height. This includes using step ladders, excavating, or working on a floor with an opening in it.
New Work at Height guidance and regulations
New guidance released in 2015 from the Department of Workers and Pensions provides the perfect opportunity to update your understanding of work at height regulations by attending our regional HSCE briefings across the UK.
Top five best practices for Work at Height policies
1. Eliminate the need
The best way to prevent an injury working at height? Don’t work at height!
It seems obvious enough, but many companies don’t take advantage of simple opportunities to remove the need for employees and on-site contractors to work at height. For example, when retrofitting or designing your overhead lighting system (perhaps to install energy-efficient options), why not install fittings that lower to the ground to allow for safe cleaning and fixture changes?
2. Equipment, not people
For many work at height jobs still conducted by employees, there is already equipment available that’s specially designed for these jobs. For example, instead of building a house roof step-by-step with employees on a scaffold, construct the roof completely built at ground level, then lifted into place by a crane. These types of work changes take planning and investigation into available technology and equipment, but can ultimately remove significant health and safety risks.
3. Go permanent
Designing a safe, permanent means of accessing heights is always safer than a temporary means of access. For example, build a fixed platform with an access staircase for commonly used areas at height, rather than having employees use a MEWP (mobile elevating work platform) or ladder.
Designing a safe, permanent means of accessing heights is always safer than a temporary means of access.
Temporary options are often not as systematically maintained and rely on employee decisions for their proper use – creating many opportunities for improper use.
4. Protect everyone at once
When selecting the risk control measures for working at height, install systems which will protect everyone, rather than just an individual. (Especially when the individual protection requires them to use the controls effectively.)
For example, provide a guard rail on a high walkway rather than have individuals on the walkway use a harness (which relies on them using it and using it correctly).
5. Don’t forget contractors
Even if you have the best health and safety policies in your employee handbook, you can still open your company up to fines and prosecution if you don’t specifically address contractors and maintenance workers on your site.
As a qualified health and safety consultant, EEF has worked with manufacturers of all sizes to conduct risk assessments, craft health and safety policies and strategies, and design and lead training employee H&S training programs. EEF members who subscribe to our H&S services can access our in-depth working at height guidance.
Get in touch or attend our regional HSCE briefings to find out more.