Work at height equipment
The market is flooded with various types of equipment to make working at height safe. However, it is important to consider that the equipment chosen to provide the collective system of work should also either directly meet the appropriate product standard or, if no product standard applies, be subject to product testing to the nearest relevant standard and, if necessary, additional testing in relation to foreseeable use and abuse. All equipment should be in accordance with the relevant British Standard or International Standard equivalent and in the UK must be CE stamped or more recently have the UKCA marking, having gone through appropriate auditing and testing. The relevant standards for the most widely used work-at-height equipment in the UK, Scaffolding/Mobile aluminium access towers are detailed below:-
- BS EN 12810: Scaffolds made of prefabricated components.
- BS EN 12811: Scaffolds in general; and
- BS EN 1004: Mobile aluminium towers.
- BS EN 13374 is the standard for edge protection.
Safety Harnesses and Nets
According to the hierarchy of risk management for working at height, regarding the use of Personal protective equipment (PPE), harnesses lanyards etc. is that fall restraint is preferable to PPE that can only arrest a fall which is normally referred to as fall restraint. Such methods used as part of a system of work require serious consideration and justification of their use. Harnesses are normally used with a land yard and are clipped onto a secured verified anchor point and will not prevent but only mitigate the effects of a fall by reducing the distance an individual falls. Although harnesses can be used as a means of restraint to prevent a fall from occurring, it is not normally evident in most common scaffold configuration guidance, or in general erection operations relying on arrest measures as the norm. Those erecting scaffolds will need to wear harnesses and follow the National Access and Scaffolding Federation (NASC) guidance SG4:22 Preventing Falls in Scaffolding Operations.
In addition to harnesses and fall arrest the use of safety nets, if they are to be used, must comply with the requirements of BS EN 1263-1:2002 Safety nets — Part 1: Safety requirements, test methods. To identify if a net has been manufactured in accordance with the relevant standard it is good practice to check the mandatory manufacturer’s statement of compliance. A requirement of BS 8411:2007 Code of Practice for safety nets on construction sites is that each test should be evidenced by a tag on the net. If there is no tag, then this is a concern and requires further investigation. Defects in nets are a paramount check and they should be stored correctly as they are subject to degradation from UV light. All safety nets must be inspected on both sides by a competent person prior to use. They should only be repaired by competent persons or by the manufacturer and installed by competent persons trained in their installation with FASET, the trade association and training body for the safety-net rigging and fall-arrest industry.1
No duty holder should ever consider working at height without having devised rescue procedures in preparation should the inevitable fall from height occur. There is considerable industry guidance available which can assist duty-holders with such planning. This includes rescuing individuals who fall when a fall arrest occurs during an activity any fall victim would still require to be rescued. Likewise, should a tower crane operator suddenly have a heart attack whilst working in his cab, from experience the emergency services including the fire brigade will not have a rescue plan to hand. Neither will they be aware of the complexities of your site or workplace. Therefore, there should always be a well-thought-out rescue plan considering the stages of the build and the current hazards present that could impede or compromise a safe rescue. In addition to having a plan have the appropriate equipment, competent rescuers etc. at hand to assist the emergency services. Never compromise the safety of another in any rescue situation.
It is paramount that an individual suspended in their harness awaiting rescue should be removed from the predicament of suspension at the earliest opportunity. There is always a risk a suspended individual could suffer loss of consciousness. This could occur quickly resulting from the shock of the deployment of the fall. In a worst-case scenario, if an individual is suspended and the timescales are prolonged, this could result in death. Therefore, time is of paramount importance. There have been instances where individuals are unconscious at the time of the fall, and this makes a difficult situation more complicated. Therefore, rescuers need to be trained and competent to deal with such situations which must be factored into considering the equipment and competent people to be involved in a rescue. Any rescue plans should consider both the conscious and unconscious casualty.
Safety Management System
In summary, regardless of whether you are a construction organisation or an organisation managing work at height in relation to the construction industry and construction work, you should have a health and safety management system such as HSG65 or ISO 45001. The principles which will require you to manage health and safety risks in relation to working at height under the principles of the plan, do, check, and act regime, and factoring all eventualities given the business undertaking. Therefore, any near misses or dangerous occurrences regarding working at height should be included in incident investigations before a fall from height occurs to make improvements and provide further prevention measures. In considering this such management systems should be designed to facilitate:-
Plan – Review your current work at height risks and arrangements at the workplace to ensure that they are adequate to prevent, or where this is not possible, limit a fall from height. Ensure sufficient supervision for working at height, levels of which relate to the competency of the individuals involved and may be different for duty holders. Where there are concerns set targets for improvements regarding working at height control measures. Good practice would include, taking account of weather conditions, and environmental factors, checking places of work at height on a daily basis for defects to access fabric/structures etc before persons are permitted to work, stopping material objects falling from height – considering exclusion zones where applicable, store objects materials safely at height, plan for emergencies, provide training for employees on working at height and emergencies, don’t overload any access equipment scaffolds/mobile towers etc, take precautions near fragile surfaces, have equipment designed or construct it to the manufacturer’s instructions. Any deviations by individuals could render that individual becoming the designer.
Do – ensure that your organisation has competent persons and knowledge, suitable equipment to ensure the design, supply, erecting and use of measures required for working at height are safe.
Check – ensuring that safe systems of work are always in place for working at height and that checks are made in accordance with statutory requirements for any equipment used for working at height including powered access MEWPS, scaffolds, proprietary systems, harnesses, fall arrest and fall restraint equipment etc. Checks are made that those involved in working at height are competent and have such competencies refreshed when they are due to expire, also monitor before events and investigate after events.
Act – organisations involved in construction work must be able to act and control their health and safety risks for their entire undertaking including working at height by creating suitable standards (policies and procedures, regimes, site rules etc.) Such standards form the basis for undertaking checks at suitable intervals and frequencies often highlighted throughout legislative requirements to control the health and safety requirements of working at height. Review performance/act on investigations lessons learned.
Assessing the risks, following the hierarchy of control, employing competent operatives, providing training, and selecting, designing, inspecting, testing & maintaining of equipment, combined with supervision and lessons learnt from near misses are all important to working safely at height in the construction industry and preventing falls from height.
Angelica Rutherford-Hacon has over 25 years of experience in civil engineering and specialising in health and safety management. Angelica has vast experience of working at height regulations. She also has great knowledge of workplace transport issues and Construction Design Management (CDM).
References and further reading
- HSE – Work at Height Regulations 2005
- HSE – Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
- HSE – Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015
- HSE – Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations
- TG20:21 – Good practice for Tube and Fitting Scaffold
- BS5975 – Code of practice for temporary works procedures and the permissible stress design of falsework.
- Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
- L153 Managing Health and Safety in Construction – Construction (Design and Management) Regulations Guidance on the Regulations
- BS 8411:2007 Code of practice for safety nets on construction sites
- National Access and Scaffolding Federation guidance SG4:22 Preventing Falls in Scaffolding Operations