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Insight from the experts: The risks of working at height

13 April 2021

Our partners at SMAS Worksafe provide health and safety accreditation to businesses in the construction, social care and education sectors. SMAS Worksafe have shared their expertise on the risks of working from height, which is one of the leading causes of fatal injuries in the construction sector.

In this article, SMAS Worksafe explain how to keep yourself and your team safe when working from height.

Working at height is the main cause of injury and fatality within the construction industry, with a reported 40 fatal injuries recorded in 2019/2020. Falling from heights often happen when working with ladders. Whilst you don’t need a formal qualification to use a ladder, you do need to be competent and understand some basic rules to keep safe when working from a height. Using a ladder or even a step ladder will be considered as working from a height, alongside the more obvious methods of working from height such as a crane, rooftop or scaffold. 

HSE figures show that in the construction sector, falls from height result in 47% of fatal workplace injuries, and are responsible for 19% of non-fatal injuries. It’s clear to see that working from height is a real threat to a worker’s safety and demonstrates why this risk must be managed effectively. But the good news is that injuries and fatalities as a result of working from height are preventable.

Before you consider working at height, we recommend you look at whether or not it is necessary and look for alternatives where possible. HSE outlines a hierarchy of control to give you some guidelines and areas to look out for when assessing a given situation where you may be thinking of working from a height. These are as follows:

  • Avoid working at height if possible
  • Use an existing safe place of work
  • Provide equipment to prevent falls
  • Mitigate distance and consequences of a fall
  • Instruction and training and/or other means

If you are required to use a ladder, please make sure it is being used correctly.  Overstretching, or standing on incorrect equipment to reach a height, for example, can all increase someone’s chance of falling. On top of that, a worker can become complacent when regularly carrying out work from a height, causing a greater chance of an accident. In construction, many workers are up and down ladders all day, whether it is on a building site, customer premises or to gain access to scaffolds. Care should be taken, and employers should help to keep workers safe. 

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 (WAHR) requires employers to create safe methods of work to reduce the risk of working from height.  They are legally obliged to ensure any task where working from height is required to be suitably planned, supervised and carried out by a competent worker. A risk assessment for each task from height should be carried out, which will include factors such as the weather conditions, the competence and experience of the worker, the place of work, any necessary equipment and specific training required. 

The HSE suggests some straightforward and practical measures to help prevent injury when working at height. These include:

  • Complete as much of the work as possible from the ground
  • Make sure workers can get safely to and from the area in which they are working from height
  • Provide suitable, strong and stable equipment for the task, and ensure it is maintained and checked regularly
  • Do not overload or overreach when working from height
  • When working on or near fragile surfaces take extra precautions
  • Provide protection from falling objects
  • Establish emergency procedures for evacuation and rescue.

Often ladders are deemed the most suitable equipment for a specific task, especially where the task will take 30 minutes or less and it’s generally considered low risk. 

“In fact they can be a sensible and practical option for low-risk, short-duration tasks, although they may not automatically be your first choice. Make sure you use the right type of ladder and you know how to use it safely.”  - Health and Safety Executive (HSE)

SMAS Worksafe will help you assess any risks your business might have if you work from heights. They will assess your business against The Work at Height Regulations 2005 as mentioned above, to make sure that you’re doing all you can to reduce the risks to your workforce.

Their standard health & safety assessment will also check other areas of health and safety within your business in line with the SSIP core criteria to make sure you remain health and safety compliant.

Obtaining an SSIP certificate not only gives you peace of mind that your business is safe but will also gain you access to working for clients such as Redrow who require SSIP accreditation as a standard to work on their sites.

SMAS Worksafe also offer Pro and Infinity packages that help your business to reach compliance in further areas such as Environmental and Quality management so that you can achieve compliance across all key areas. To learn more about Pro and Infinity and which package is best suited to your business, check out the SMAS Worksafe website

At Premierline, we are passionate about helping you protect the business that you have built. This is why we offer a bespoke service to assess your business needs to make sure that you are covered should the worst happen.

Our business insurance advisors work with some of the UK’s most well-known insurance providers to find a builders insurance quote that provides the cover that your business needs.

It is important to make sure that you have the right insurance in place to protect the business that you have built. Every business is different and has its own business insurance needs, which is why we work with some of the UK’s most well-known insurers to ensure that you are getting the right insurance cover for your business.
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