Revised guidance for employers and employees on working at height has been launched by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
The move comes as part of the Government’s commitment to crack down on regulations that it believes are overly complicated, out of date or too burdensome.
Working at height is very common in the working environment, with an estimated ten million workers thought to carry out jobs that require them to work at height at some point every year.
HSE statistics show that in 2012/13 falls from height were the most common cause of fatalities, accounting for almost a third of fatal injuries to workers (31%).
Worryingly, the figures also reveal that while the number of fatal injuries has generally fallen over the past decade, the percentage of fatal injuries due to falls from height has not shown a similar decrease.
Unsurprisingly, about half (23) of fatal fall injuries to workers were in the construction sector. Construction also accounted for ten of the 21 fatal injuries to the self-employed and for 13 of the 25 to employees. No other industry sector had more than two fatal injuries from falls.
The revised guidance has introduced a number of key changes, including:
“It’s important to get working at height right,” explained Judith Hackitt, Chair of the Health and Safety Executive. “Falls remain one of the biggest causes of serious workplace injury – with more than 40 people killed and 4,000 suffering major injuries every year."
“We have a sensible set of regulations and have been working with business to improve our guidance – making it simpler and clearer and dispelling some of the persistent myths about what the law requires,” she added.
Falls from height can be catastrophic for the workers involved. In one incident recently reported by the HSE, a man was left severely paralysed after falling from a ladder.
Michael Riley had been working as a roofer for Liverpool building firm and had been removing cement sheets from the roof of a house. He had been told not to use the chute feeding general rubble into a skip as a way of getting the sheets off the roof, because they apparently contained asbestos and therefore needed to be disposed of separately.
As a result, he had to go down the ladder carrying the bags of asbestos sheets on his shoulder. The bags, which weighed around ten kilograms each, could not be tied and so had to be held upright, which meant he could only have one hand on the ladder as he descended.
He was only a few rungs down the ladder before he lost his balance and fell backwards for several metres, landing on the back of a truck and then on the ground.
He paralysed both arms and legs and suffered serious internal injuries, which have left him severely disabled.
The HSE found that the firm had failed to provide a method statement or risk assessment for the work, and had also failed to provide suitable equipment to safely lower the bags to the ground.
Alarmingly, the investigation found that even after Mr Riley sustained such life-changing injuries, the firm had not changed how it removed the asbestos sheets and continued to risk the lives of its workers with dangerous work practices.
The company was fined £105,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £64,600 after pleading guilty to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
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