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The height of danger in the workplace

The last month alone has highlighted, and provided ready reminders of, the dangers of working at height. In one case an animal feed producer and a maintenance contractor were fined after a woman fell five metres through a fragile warehouse roof and in another a partner in a food company was fined after an employee fell around two metres while unloading a shipping container attached to the back of an HGV.

Richard Bartlett, Client Services Manager at leading health and Safety consultancy, Perry Scott Nash, says that the issue of working at heights in British industry is often overlooked. "One of the big issues, is employers looking at this type of working as an ‘exception’, and not properly considering the risks. Education and training in the workplace relating to working at heights is an absolute staple requirement in any health and safety guidance and for all workplaces".

Working at height is work in any place at, above or below ground level, where a person could be injured if they fell from that place. Access and egress to a place of work can also be considered work at height.

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 cover all work at height activities and came into force in April 2005. The Regulations not only apply to employers but also to "duty holders". Duty holders will often be employers but may also cover any person who controls the way work at height is undertaken e.g. clients commissioning construction work, managing agents, building owners. The Regulations require duty holders to ensure:

All work at height is properly planned and organised
Those involved in work at height are competent
The risks from work at height are assessed and appropriate work equipment is selected and used.

The risks from fragile materials/surfaces are properly controlled
Equipment for work at height is properly inspected and maintained

Examples of work at height include:

Working on a flat roof

Working from a ladder

Working near or adjacent to fragile materials

Working at ground level adjacent to an open excavation

Working anywhere where there is a risk of falling

Erecting and working from scaffolding

Employers need to realise that every time someone undertakes a task at height, regardless of the frequency, there is a risk that they could fall and injure themselves and to that end, a Risk Assessment must be completed. The Risk Assessment approach is as follows:

1. Identify the hazard

2. Decide who might be harmed and how

3. Evaluate the risks and decide whether the existing precautions are adequate or whether more needs to be done i.e. identify the control measures necessary to reduce the risks of injuries

4. Record your findings

5. Review the assessment

"There’s no excuse for employers to be putting employees at risk and we urge all to conduct a risk assessment and, where appropriate training, hand-in-hand with regular monitoring to safeguard the welfare of employees." said Richard.

Live cases of failures in this area – Source www.hse.gov.uk:

An animal feed producer and a maintenance contractor have been fined after a woman fell five metres through a fragile warehouse roof in Staffordshire.

The 27-year-old woman, who does not want to be named, was repairing a gutter at Provimi Ltd’s site in Eastern Avenue, Lichfield, when she tripped and fell through a rooflight. She fractured two vertebrae and suffered extensive bruising in the fall, keeping her off work for two months, Burton-on-Trent Magistrates’ Court heard. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Provimi Ltd and the woman’s employer, Alan Riley, trading as Riley & Sons, following the incident on 4 April 2011.

A partner in a Leicester food company has been fined after an employee fell around two metres while unloading a shipping container attached to the back of an HGV.

Jaisukh Chandarana asked an 18-year-old worker to unload barrels, stored in layers with plywood separating each layer, from the container at Simtom Food Products factory in Merry Lees. The teenage worker, who has asked not to be identified, was lifted on a pallet on a fork lift truck to climb onto a stack of pallets near the container doors. From there he entered the container and dragged the barrels onto the pallet held at height by the fork lift. Leicester Magistrates’ Court was told that while stepping from one pallet to another, the man fell around two metres, resulting in severe bruising to his abdomen and sprains to his shoulder and wrist. As a result he was off work for a several weeks. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Mr Chandarana for the 4 January 2011 incident. Mr Chandarana, 57, of Hastings Road, Kirby Muxloe, pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 4(1) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 and was fined £7,500 with costs of £1,380.

For more information go to www.perryscottnash.co.uk

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