Latest figures from the HSE reveal that falls from height remain one of the highest causes of death with 19 employee fatalities and 2,895 major injuries reported during 2013/14.
Unfortunately these statistics show that work at height is and will continue to be extremely hazardous and it is exactly for this reason that we continue to lecture about the importance of making sure there’s sufficient protection for those working at height.
All too often we see people working at height with little or no protection, and when challenged they simply state “I’m just doing a quick inspection of the roof,” or “I’m a contractor, I don’t work here.” Well that’s ok then isn’t it, obviously because they’re just doing a quick inspection or simply working as the contractor, they won’t fall!
We’ve already discussed in a previous Blog, (Checking on Competency), how to make sure those you contract to carry out work are competent to do so, but what else can you do to make sure those accessing your roof are safe?
Companies have a duty under the Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 to ensure the health and safety of not only their own employees but also any contractor who carries out work on their behalf. If you think about a typical roof, gutters will need clearing, general roof repairs will be required, air conditioning units and telecommunication equipment maintained, access may also be required from one plant room to another or to inspect CCTV cameras and security lighting installed on the side of a building. All this work will probably be carried out by different contractors, which means access to the roof area will be required regularly throughout the year.
Your first step should be to carry out a risk assessment, examining what work is required and whether the risks can be overcome. If the risks cannot be overcome then you need to think about how you can minimise them and make sure that contractors are safe.
When selecting work equipment or other methods to prevent or minimise a fall, collective measures including edge protection must be considered before personal fall protection such as lanyards and fall arrest equipment.
For example, if access to the roof is via a perimeter ladder or powered access such as MEWP, a physical form of fall protection such as guardrails should be installed on both sides as you step onto the roof itself. Similarly, when the working area is within 2m of the edge of the roof, guardrails should be provided to prevent a person reaching the leading edge or area of risk.
Work areas/equipment which are situated where there isn’t an immediate risk of a fall, in other words up to 2m from the roof edge, can be protected by a form of demarcation (not painted lines or bunting). Demarcation can also be combined with guardrail to provide cost effective protection to safely guide a worker from the point of entry onto a roof to the working area.
For short term, low frequency operations (less than once a year) or when access is required beyond the safe area, mobile anchors can be used. These are ideal for annual inspections or emergency repair, but should only be used whenever possible as fall restraint. If used as fall arrest you are getting into the issue of personal fall prevention which presents a higher risk and will require instruction, training and supervision of the users as well as a detailed rescue policy and plan in the event of a fall.
Whatever the work, whether it’s short term work such as sweeping leaves and cleaning guttering or maintaining plant and equipment, you must ensure that the work is planned properly, supervised and suitable equipment provided to allow the work to be carried out safely by competent people. At the end of the day, you are responsible for the safety of employees and contractors on your roof so it is you who will be held accountable should an accident occur. And remember, if in doubt – ask the experts