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The dangers of working at height

A significant number of injuries are caused when workers fall from a height whether from ladders or scaffolding. Many employers are not aware of the law or fail to adequately implement it into their working practices.

The construction industry is still recognised as having one of the highest rates of employees sustaining severe injuries or fatalities, with falls from height being the main cause of these statistics. The HSE published figures in 2016 which reveal that in the year of 2015/16 from a 144 fatalities, just over a quarter of these cases (37 cases) occurred due to accidents arising from working at height.

The Working at Height Regulations 2005 apply to all work at height where there is a risk of personal injury.

As part of the regulations, employers must 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 surfaces are properly controlled;
  • equipment for work at height is properly inspected and maintained;
  • and workers should also receive appropriate training in the use of the equipment and they should be properly supervised.

The regulations also recommend that, where possible, working at height should be avoided. However, this is not always practical. With this in mind, the HSE has provided the following advice for working at height:

  • make sure the surface/access equipment in use is stable and strong enough to support the workers weights and that of any equipment;
  • carry out as much work as possible from the ground or partly from the ground, for example assemble structure on the ground and lift them into position with lifting equipment;
  • ensure workers can get safely to and from where they want to work at height and consider emergency evacuation and rescue procedures;
  • provide protection from falling objects;
  • and ensure equipment used for work at height is well maintained and inspected regularly.

Successful prosecutions against companies send strong messages to employers that deviations from acceptable standards will not be tolerated by the HSE and the Court.

There is detailed advice for employers on the HSE website on how to implement precautions and preventative measures in the workplace and therefore it is no defence for an employer to state they were unaware of the law.

I recently represented a labourer who was working at height at a derelict warehouse. My client fell thirty feet from a roof whilst he was removing skylights. His employer’s failed to provide him with adequate training, they had not provided any safety equipment or a safety net under the roof to protect him in the case he fell through the roof. My client sustained a fracture to his wrist, pelvis and spine. The accident and his injuries could have been prevented if his employer had provided the right duty of care and training. He received damages totaling £135,000.

Research shows that sadly more still needs to be done to spread awareness amongst employers to prevent work related death and injuries.