At the end of July, a roofer and a scaffolder were sentenced following a fatal fall from height at a residence in Wimbledon.
Working at height is a dangerous activity if the right precautions aren’t taken, especially when the correct personal protective equipment (PPE) is not worn. In this article, we will examine what went wrong with the safety practices of these construction workers and outline what you need to do stay safe when working at height.
Working safely at height by following the necessary safety precautions will ensure your employees avoid injury and your business stays the right side of regulations.
So, what went wrong?
The case was heard at Southwark Crown Court following an incident which occurred in November 2018, in which Philip Drinkwater and Anthony Bradley were working on a roof. The roof was accessed by a ladder and scaffolding that had been erected by Dean Glen.
At a certain point in the afternoon, Mr Drinkwater asked Mr Bradley to help him move slate to the roof using an electric hoist. During this process, he fell approximately six metres through a gap which was left adjacent to the hoist. He fell to the ground, sadly dying almost immediately.
At court, Dean Glen, as DDP Scaffolding, pleaded guilty to breaching section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. He was fined £5,000 and directed to pay costs of £6,318.
Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspector Kevin Smith commented on the incident after the hearing: “The tragedy of this incident was that it was totally avoidable.”
“Preventative measures were inexpensive and required little time or effort. Reducing the size of the opening in the guard rails and installing a self-closing scaffold gate would have stopped this man from falling to his death. A scaffold gate costs around £40 and only takes a few minutes to install.
“Those involved in scaffolding and roof work on smaller sites need to be aware of the potentially devastating consequences of failing to put basic safeguards in place.”
Working at height safely – safe working practices
The HSE’s toolbox on working safely at height outlines how to control risk at work and manage health and safety. As working from height is one of the biggest killers and causes of injury in the construction industry, it’s important to protect against such incidents through practical safety measures.
The most common causes of injury include falls from ladders and through fragile surfaces, or unprotected surfaces as mentioned earlier.
The HSE considers ‘work at height’ to mean “work in any place where, if there were no precautions in place, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury”.
What are my obligations?
It is vital that you ensure work is properly planned, supervised and carried out by competent professionals. They must have the skills, knowledge and experience to carry out this specialised work. Additionally, it is crucial that those working at height use the correct equipment for working in such conditions.
When reviewing precautions, take a safety-first, pragmatic approach. Of course, low-risk and relatively low-risk tasks require less planning and precautions, but the HSE also advises that there are some tasks which may require no precaution at all, simply through the application of common sense.
Control measures to work safely at height
First things first, assess the risks present in any task before proceeding. Consider the height of the task, its duration and the condition of the surface being worked on, as well as how often it is worked on.
Before working at height:
- Avoid work at height where practical. For instance, complete work at ground level if possible
- Where work at height is necessary, prevent falls using a safe area and the right equipment
- If a safe area does not currently exist, take measures to reduce risk
- Risk mitigation could include minimising the distance of a potential fall
Consider collective protection over individual protection. For instance, in this case, a guard rail would have protected all including the defendants of the case.
Dos and don’ts of working at height
- All work possible from ground level at ground level
- Enable workers to reach the working from height area
- Check equipment is suitable, in good condition for the job and checked and maintained regularly
- Take precautions when working on fragile surfaces
- Provide personal and collective precautions for objects falling from height
- Plan rescue and emergency procedures
- Overload ladders. Consider if the ladder is appropriate to hold weight of objects carried and check the safety triangle on the ladder
- Reach further than necessary, avoid overreaching
- Rest a ladder against surfaces that are fragile or weak
- Allow anyone without the necessary competency to work at height to perform tasks at height
Let’s discuss your health and safety requirements
Get in touch with us today to discuss your businesses’ health and safety requirements. We can provide a comprehensive Working at Height Risk Assessment which will enable your business to understand the risks present in the tasks your employees regularly perform.
You should be carrying out a risk assessment before beginning work on a new project, or performing a specific task for the first time.
Your business may instead require a review of your health and safety policies. We can provide a thorough health, safety and environmental audit which reviews your policies and practices. Our full list of health, safety and environmental compliance services can be viewed here.
We also offer retained health, safety and environmental services with many benefits available.