Working at Height
Working at height can be one of the most dangerous activities that can be carried out at work, due to the variations in height involved, accounting for the highest percentage of injuries caused by falls from height.
What does legislation say?
Prior to 1974, there were no regulations or legislation for activities at work involving height. This changed with the Health and Safety at Work 1974. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 states very clearly that:
‘It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his/her employees.’
The legislation placed the responsibility on the employer to carry out risk assessments as well as to ensure that they provide the tools for their employee to do the required job in the safest possible way. This is a long way from the historical evidence we have of people working at height.
Historic Working at Height
Just taking a look through the history books will show you the sort of work that has been carried out at heights over the years. Even walking around some of the most interesting and beautiful cities and areas of the world you can see evidence of people working at height.
Examples of these structures include:
- The Pyramids of Giza, Egypt,
- Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, France,
- Gloucester Cathedral, England,
- Salisbury Cathedral, England,
- Canterbury Cathedral, England,
- The Houses of Parliament, England,
- La Sagrada Familia, Spain.
These are possibly all structures that you will be aware of, if not visited and seen. These major structures would have been built by people who were using the most basic of tools and working in environments that modern Health and Safety rules would frown upon and punish. Not only this, but the people building these structures would have been unskilled and not necessary fully suitable to the task they were being asked to complete. But we must not forget that aside of all the issues with their practice, they managed to build structures which have lasted the test of time and are admired by many people every day.
As we move through the years, the industrial revolution made room for steam-powered machinery to assist in the building sector. In the 20th Century the use of elevators and cranes have made it easier for skyscrapers to be built however, working at height, safety equipment was haphazard and lacking in regulations.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
In 1974, The Health and Safety at Work Act came into force to encourage, regulate and enforce workplace Health and Safety. The Act introduced an additional Code of Practice to improve working conditions for employees and provide guidance for employers and employees working at height.
The Act also applied to the self-employed sector as well as those who are working in the employed sector. The legislation also extended to the provision of the maintenance of plant and systems of work, arrangements for the use, handling, storage and transport of articles and substances, information of safe systems, instruction, training and supervision, and maintenance of any work carried out under the employer’s control.
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According to RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases, Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013) reports of fatal injuries to employees have reduced by 86% as of 2015. This is clearly an indicator of how well the legislation has worked, although in that time additional legislation has come into force which has further affected the Working at Height regulations, as well the invention of new and upgraded technology to aid the workers who are working at height.
In 2005, the Work at Height Regulations came into force. These regulations built on and added rules and regulations to that of the Health and Safety at Work 1974. One of the most important things that the regulations did, was to remove the minimum height for a fall from height to be counted. According to the Work at Height Regulations 2005 there is no definition of a fall from height which means that a fall from height could actually take place below sea level. It is important to remember that a fall from standing can be a fall from height.
The regulations make it clear that they apply to any work at height where there is a risk of fall likely to cause injury regardless of the height, type of work and duration of the task taking place.
Why do injuries and accidents from height take place?
Most injuries caused from a fall from height at work include:
- People taking shortcuts,
- Equipment is not available or in poor condition,
- Wrong choice of equipment for the work being carried out,
- Equipment not being used accordingly,
- Lack of awareness of the risks of working at height,
- Inadequate or a lack of training and supervision.
The regulations provide duties for employers and employees, they state that anyone who contracts others to work at height should ensure that the task:
- Should be effectively planned and organised,
- Takes into account weather conditions,
- Utilises trained and competent persons,
- Ensures the venue is safe,
- Uses safe and inspected equipment,
- Ensures risks from fragile surfaces are properly controlled, and
- Ensures risks from falling objects are well managed.
It also adds that employers must also:
- Only allow the work at height to be carried out if it could not be reasonably carried out at ground level,
- Ensure the work is as safe as practical,
- Plan for emergencies, and
- Take into account risk assessments.
It is important that the person who is carrying out the task at height is a competent person and that they have ensured, as well as the person asking them for the task to be done, that the equipment being used to complete it is safe and in full working order prior to the task taking place.
So, what happens should it all go wrong?
Should an injury or an accident occur in the workplace, the employer or the person who contracted out the work may:
- Receive an unlimited fine,
- Be imprisoned for up to 2 years,
- Face prosecution under the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act (2007) which could include:
These can be unlimited, on top of the unlimited fine mentioned above.
- Remedial orders,
This will require a company or organisation to take steps to remedy any management failure that led to a death.
- Publicity orders.
This is an order that a court can impose which would require the company or organisation to publicise that it has been convicted of the offence.
The order will require the publication of:
- The full details of the incident,
- The amount of any fine imposed, and
- The terms of any remedial order that was made.
The publicity order provisions will not come into force until the Sentencing Guidelines Council has completed its work on the relevant guidance.
The Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act 2007 cannot be applied retrospectively, any deaths that occurred before the 6th April 2008 would have been covered and dealt with under the previous corporate manslaughter legislation.
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