Cross Parliamentary work at height report in depth

By Richard Dyson, General Manager of Safesite

At the end of last month, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Working at Height released its report on safety at height practices in the UK, based on its investigations into the work at height culture across the country.

The report ‘Staying Alive: Preventing Serious Injury and Fatalities while Working at Height’ was created with the assistance of businesses and experts throughout the UK, and makes several recommendations on how to improve work at height injury and death statistics.

Though the UK has some of the lowest injury and death statistics in the EU, the APPG says these can be even lower, and that its recommendations are a part of this process.

Group chair Alison Thewliss MP said: ‘From the early days of the APPG to the publication of this report, it is clear that serious injuries and fatalities from falls at height are still too prevalent. In the past year alone, 35 families in the UK have been devastated by the loss of loved ones and many more will have had to deal with life-changing injuries.

‘These figures are too high. There should be no question or doubt over workers’ ability to return home safely to their families each evening. I hope that this report and the future work of the APPG, alongside government and industry, will help to bring about action to see these numbers drastically reduced, and ultimately brought down to zero.’

One of the most startling parts of the report is the APPG’s recommendation that ‘a major review of work at height culture’ be carried out. including engaging with traditionally more difficult to reach sectors, reviewing the suitability of current financial punishments, and the role that digital technologies can play in improving the safety of workers.

Ms Thewliss said: ‘There is an urgent need to improve work at height culture, yet this issue is sadly not at the top of decision-makers’ agenda.’

The group recommends an enhanced reporting system through the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR), which currently records only the scale of a fall, the method used and the circumstances surrounding it. In 2013, this process was adjusted to reduce the reporting burden on industry. Subsequently, this led to a less detailed data collection system.

The APPG also says this should be accompanied by the appointment of an independent body allowing confidential, enhanced digital reporting for accidents that do not qualify for RIDDOR. The idea is this data is then shared with government and industry to inform health and safety policy, allowing them to better understand the root causes of fall from height.

The report also advises an extension of Scotland’s Fatal Accident Inquiry process to the rest of the UK, equivalent to an inquest in England and Wales. These inquiries determine:

  • Time and place of the death
  • The cause of death
  • Any precautions which may have avoided the death
  • Any defects in the system of working which may have avoided the death
  • Any other relevant considerations.

The report highlights lack of planning as a big contributor to falls from height, including inadequate information at tender level leading to under-resourced quotes being provided and accepted, heavy reliance on generic risk assessments and poor design considerations.

It was also noted that planning can often be affected by the need to be competitive in today’s hostile market, which can negatively impact the safety of workers.

At Safesite, we regularly remind our clients of the importance of proper planning to ensure work is carried out safely. The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 state that designers must mitigate foreseeable risks to the health or safety of any person involved in the construction or maintenance of the structure, or those who use it as a workplace. We agree with the APPG’s finding that more should be done to educate designers on the role they play.

Lack of training was also highlighted as a big contributor to falls from height. The APPG quoted a previous report by Professor Ragnar E Löfstedt, who noted that during his research, only a small number of managers could define working at height and few understood regulatory requirements, and fewer could properly communicate this to their teams. We often blog about the importance of training and competence, and how vital they are in creating a safe working environment.

Other recommendations include further investment in technology including drones and augmented reality for surveying and training, and tax relief for small, micro and sole traders.

The UK has some of the lowest work at height injury rates throughout the EU, but the APPG claims these can be improved even further, and it will continue to investigate the causes of falls from height with the help of industry.

The report states: ‘We have seen significant progress since the introduction of the 2005 Work at Height Regulations, however, it is clear from our findings that more must be done by policymakers, regulators and industry leaders to reduce the number of falls from height.’

Safesite, as part of the Kee Safety Group, is dedicated to its contribution to creating safer working environments for everyone. For information on how we can help ensure your site is as safe as possible, click here.

To read the full report, click here.

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