The low down on working at height

A tragic event in September this year, where a school teacher slipped, fell and broke her leg and subsequently died from complications while putting up a display in her classroom ahead of the new term, put into focus how easily what could be considered a common, ‘simple’ task can go horribly wrong. 

The newspaper coverage did not give enough detail on what happened to comment further on this particular incident, so I will be talking in general terms about working at ‘low heights’.

image courtesy of HSE

The Working at Height Regulations changed back in 2005 to ‘Work at height means work in any place where, if there were no precautions in place, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury.’

I think what affected me the most (again without knowing the exact events of the above) is how often have I personally climbed on top of a chair, table or desk to for example to change a light bulb or reach something off a shelf, without really thinking about the suitability of what I’m standing on simply because it was the easiest option. I bet I’m not alone in having done this.

image courtesy of HSE

Now I’m not suggesting that every time you want to step off the ground, a meeting of senior management should be arranged and a 300 page risk assessment should be be prepared, but bearing in mind the possible consequences it is worth taking some time out to consider the best course of action before starting that task and if it means delaying it slightly while a suitable piece of equipment or more qualified member of personnel is acquired to carry out the task as safely as possible, then so be it.

Many organisations will already have procedures in place and have that communicated to all staff and  if not then they should, but it is obviously difficult to cover every eventuality. Where it is possible to minimise risk is for ‘regular tasks’ i.e. something that is done at least once a year. Then as a result of a risk assessment a suitable piece of equipment can be selected and appropriate training provided or it may be a case of moving something stored ‘out of reach’ to a position where it can be easily accessed without having to climb.

image courtesy of HSE

Consider also then areas where staff are required to access, similar requirements may be needed on a roof or on a factory floor, a piece of plant or equipment may need to be accessed that requires someone to climb a short distance to reach it, a permanent work platform may be the most suitable solution so the access is always available and in the case of a roof the access equipment doesn’t need to be taken up each time minimising those associated hazards.

Where steps or platforms are already in place could they be further enhanced by adding a self closing gate to minimise falls at the access point?

Whatever your working at height query, at Simplified Safety we’re always pleased to help with advice and if necessary provide an on-site meeting to discuss your requirements.

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