Falling from height is the number one cause of fatal injuries to workers accounting for 25% of all fatalities
In the construction industry, 60% of the fall from height resulted in fatalities and 30% of the major injuries . This is equivalent to 35 fatalities and 938 major injuries caused by a fall in height in the construction industry in 2019/20.
The construction industry has inherent risks from tasks such as roofing, scaffolding and use of ladders, and these are the agents that account for the largest proportion of all work at height fatalities.
Ladders are the main cause of major injuries across all industries, followed by vehicles and plants. Falls from height are often perceived as “high-level falls,” but it is surprising that +75% of major injuries are attributable to falls below two metres.
Legal duties in the construction sector
Notwithstanding the responsibilities of employers and workers under the Health and Safety at Work Act and the Health and Safety at Work Regulations, specific Work at Height Regulations (WAH) were adopted in April 2005.
A key part of the WAH Regulations was the abolition of the two-metre rule and its replacement with a risk assessment provision where “a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury” This involves dropping from any height and even from ground level to dangers such as trenches, lift shafts and manholes.
The WAH Regulations require best management practices. The company would need to ensure its health and safety management system: Enables them to plan all work at height
- Applies the “hierarchy of control measures”
- Selects the right people and equipment for the task
- Trains persons doing the work
- Inspects and maintains the equipment used
- Ensures supervision and monitoring of work as per method statements, work instructions and toolbox talks
In the context of legal liability, the WAH regulations impose an absolute duty to manage the risk by consistent use of the word “shall” with regard to aspects such as planning, competence and supervision. “Reasonably practicable” only appears in relation to the fact that work at height must be “carried out in a manner which is so far as is reasonably practicable safe”.
Construction height control measurers:
> Avoidance of work at height
- Identify innovative solutions at the planning and design stage to avoid work at height e.g. manufacture beams that allow edge protection to be installed at ground level before they are lifted in to place.
- Use forklifts and cranes to unload vehicles.
- Shrink wrap pallets/vehicle loads at ground level rather than manual sheeting on vehicle.
> Prevention of falls
- Identify and utilise an existing safe place of work at height before considering additional equipment.
- Make safe existing structures with suitably adequate edge protection i.e. guard rails at least 950mm above the edge, fit toe boards and intermediate guard rail so no gap is greater than 470mm.
- Design edge protection to create permanent barrier e.g. roll over barriers when lifting goods onto mezzanine areas.
- Work from mobile elevated working platforms such as cherry pickers or scissor lifts or use podium steps or tower scaffolds. (Working from ladders should be seen as a last resort).
- Ensure scaffolds are designed and erected in accordance with TG20:08
- Maintain high housekeeping standards.
> Minimise consequence of fall
- Introduce protective equipment to reduce the distance and consequences of a fall.
- Use collective protection to protect all workers in preference to personal protective equipment. e.g. netting and crash mats in preference to fall arrest lanyards.
- Inspect and maintain personal and collective protective equipment.
> Other measures when prevention and mitigation of falls is not reasonably practicable
- Training and toolbox talks e.g. ladders, tower scaffold erection, use of mobile elevated working platforms.
- Warning notices e.g. for fragile roofs.
- Making edges highly visible when physical edge protection is not practicable.
- Foot and hand holds to aid secure vehicle access and egress.
- Suitable emergency rescue procedures for a suspended person.
HSE statistics show that falls from height are the main cause of workplace fatalities. The Work at Height Regulations require all work at height, where a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury, to be assessed.
With a need for effective risk management procedures within the regulations, all policyholders should formulate strategies to identify all tasks where work at height is required.
In addition to purchasing adequate construction insurance, all policyholders should seek to avoid such work wherever possible, or introduce equipment or procedures that prevent falls and/or minimise the consequences of falls.