SAFed Health and Safety Passport Scheme

Module 15 — Working at Heights

15.1     Introduction

This document forms one of a series of modules on various health and safety subjects that comprise the examinable material considered necessary for the award of the SAFed Health and Safety Passport.

When you have studied this module you should have acquired sufficient knowledge to be able to complete the questions detailed at the end of the module.  Upon satisfactory completion of all modules, you will be eligible to undertake the final assessment for the award of the SAFed Health and Safety Passport.

The SAFed Health and Safety Passport is issued to Engineer Surveyors by the Health and Safety Manager of their employing company upon satisfactory completion of the Safety Passport final assessment.

The award of the SAFed Health and Safety Passport provides evidence that the holder of the Passport has the appropriate knowledge and awareness in health and safety matters considered necessary for an Engineer Surveyor to undertake the duties for which they are authorised by their employing company.

The passport is valid for a maximum of three years.

15.2     Key Objectives

Having studied the module you should have an awareness of

·         Legislation applicable to Working at Height

·         Precautions necessary prior to Working at Height

15.3          Legal commentary

Whilst new legislation will be introduced in the near future, (UK Work at Height Regulations), currently the following regulations ensure that equipment and workplaces meet the health, safety and welfare needs of all members of a workforce.  On clients sites this becomes a shared responsibility between you, your employer and the clients’ employers.

·         The Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

·         The Workplace (Health, Safety & Welfare) Regulations 1992.

·         The Provision and Use of Work Equipment regulations 1998 (PUWER 98).

·         Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER 98).

·         The Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

15.4     Discussion

Falls from height are the biggest cause of fatal accidents at work.  There are on average 80 deaths and 5,500 serious injuries per year due to falls from height.

Ladders are one of the biggest causes of accidents at work and every month more than a thousand people need hospital treatment due to stepladder accidents.

15.5     What is working at Height?

Working at height is defined as work in any place from which a person could fall a distance liable to cause a personal injury.  Previously, legislation required protective measures at heights greater than 2m above the ground.  However, working below 2m should not be considered as safe.  A number of people die at work each year from falling 2m or less and 60% of falls occur below 2m.  Therefore, all working at height situations need to be assessed for their potential to cause a personal injury and appropriate preventative measures taken.  

15.5.1  Risk Assessment

Before commencing any work at height the situation must be assessed and an appropriate safe method of work adopted.  Whenever possible working at height should be avoided but in many instances this will not be possible.  Examples of avoiding working at height include; choosing local exhaust ventilation test points at ground level and checking a mobile crane’s ropes at ground level (if possible).

When considering how to work safely at height preference should be given to measures that protect all people (‘collective measures’ e.g. guard rails, safety nets etc) over those that only protect individuals (‘personal measures’ e.g. harnesses and lanyards).  Preference should also be given to measures that prevent a fall (e.g. guard rails, restraint lanyards etc) over those that only minimise the effects of a fall (e.g. safety nets, air bags, fall arrest lanyard etc.).

15.5.2  Hierarchy of Methods for Working at Heights

Using the principles above, a general hierarchy of methods for working at height can be listed as follows, bearing in mind that each situation would need to be assessed individually and the most appropriate safe technique adopted.

a)      Avoid working at height.

b)      Work from a location, or using equipment, where the risk of falling is prevented or minimised, for example:

·         Fully guarded permanent platform or surface.

·         Mobile Elevating Work Platform (MEWP).

·         Fully guarded temporary platform.

·         A suitable man-carrying cage on a fork-lift truck.

c)      Work from a location where the possibility of a fall is minimised but not prevented.  For example, work needs to be carried out outside of the guarding or the guarding is insufficient.  In these situations protective measures will be required e.g. harness and lanyard, safety nets etc.

d)      Work from an appropriately secured ladder with three points on the ladder (e.g. two feet and a hand).

e)      Specialist techniques, e.g. rope access techniques and ‘man riding’ on a crane.

15.5.3  Permanent and Temporary Platforms and Surfaces

All platforms and surfaces used for working at heights must have the following features:

a)      Be of suitable strength, rigidity and stability.

b)      Be of sufficient dimensions and at least 600mm wide.

c)      Not be overloaded.

d)      Be constructed on a surface suitable for supporting it.

e)      Be prevented from moving, e.g. by secure attachment or by locking the wheels on mobile structures.

f)       Include measures to prevent objects falling on to people below.

Where guarding is provided it should comply with the following general requirements:

a)      Toe boards should be at least 150mm high.

b)      The main guard rail should be at least 1m above the edge from which any person is liable to fall.

c)      There should be no unprotected gap exceeding 470mm.

d)      Any gap between the toe-board and work surface should be as small as reasonably practicable.

For temporary platforms (e.g. scaffolding) the following additional requirements apply:

a)      An assembly, use and dismantling plan should be drawn up by a competent person and a copy kept available at the site.

b)      The dimensions, form and layout should be suitable for the work to be performed and the loads to be carried.  The platform of a general purpose scaffold should be at least four boards wide.

c)      It must only be assembled, dismantled or significantly altered under the supervision of a competent person and by people that have received appropriate training.

d)      It must be inspected by a competent person under these circumstances:

·         Before first use.

·         After any significant alteration.

·         After anything that may have affected its strength and stability.

·         At least every seven days.  

15.5.4  Mobile Elevating Work Platforms (MEWPs)

MEWPs must only be operated by someone with the appropriate training.  A harness and lanyard must be worn in a MEWP when there is a suitable anchorage point.

These points on the safe use of MEWPs should also be followed:

·         The work platform should be provided with guard rails and toe boards or other suitable barriers.

·         It should be used on firm and level ground.  The ground may have to be prepared in advance.

·         The tyres must be properly inflated.

·         Any outriggers must be extended and chocked as necessary before raising the platform.  These should also be protected from damage, e.g. by passing vehicles.

·         If there is a risk of people being struck by the MEWP or falling objects, the area must be cordoned off or other suitable measures put in place.

·         Always ensure that the Safe Working Load (SWL) of the MEWP is not exceeded.

·         Everyone must know what to do if the machine fails with the platform in the raised position.

·         Do not operate MEWPs close to overhead cables or other dangerous machinery.

·         Do not raise or lower the work platform near open windows or other structures that could cause it to tip.

·         Do not allow any part of the machine to protrude into a traffic route when working near vehicles.

·         Do not move the MEWP with the platform in the raised position unless it is designed to allow this to be done.

·         Do not use MEWPs in adverse weather conditions or ensure that it is adequately protected against such conditions, e.g. in high winds, storms or when it is snowing.

·         The guarded platform of the MEWP must not be left while working at heights, e.g. to gain access to a neighbouring structure, unless there is an emergency.

15.5.5  Working Platforms on Fork-lift Trucks

Fork-lift trucks are not specifically designed for carrying people and so should only be used in exceptional circumstances when more appropriate equipment (e.g. a mobile elevating work platform) is not available.

Under no circumstances must anyone ride on the forks of a fork-lift truck or on a pallet placed on the forks.

The following safety points should be followed when using a working platform on a fork-lift truck:

·         The fork-lift truck must be designated for carrying people and be thoroughly examined by a competent person at intervals not exceeding six months.

·         The cage or basket for carrying the person must be of suitable construction with adequate guarding, it should be thoroughly examined by a competent person at intervals not exceeding 6 months.

·         The cage or basket must be attached to the truck with a suitable attachment and locking device.

·         The person travelling in the basket or cage must be protected from contact with moving machinery.

·         The floor must be level and the mast vertical.

·         The total load (platform, equipment and person to be carried) must total less than 50% of the rated capacity of the fork-lift truck.

·         Ideally there should be two suspension ropes or chains but this is not compulsory.

·         No person must be transported in the raised cage or basket.

15.5.6  Harnesses and Lanyards

There are two main types of lanyard:

a)      Restraint Lanyards — These prevent the wearer from reaching zones where a risk of falling exists.

b)      Fall Arrest Lanyards — These minimise the effects of a fall by preventing the wearer colliding with the ground or a structure beneath them.

Fall arrest lanyards must be worn when a risk of falling exists as they contain an energy absorber to cushion a fall.  However, methods to prevent a fall should always be used in preference to a fall arrest lanyard, as the person may be injured during the fall and would also need to be rescued.

For a harness and fall arrest lanyard to be used these three requirements must be in place:

a)      A suitable anchorage point capable of withstanding the shock load of a person falling, this is usually classified as a shock load of 1000kg.

b)      Sufficient free space for the person to fall into without being injured.  This can be up to 6.5m below the anchorage point depending on where the anchorage point is situated in relation to the wearer.

c)      A means of rescuing a suspended person promptly.  Serious injury and even death can occur if a person is suspended for a period of time, especially if they are unconscious.

Supplier information should be consulted on the correct use, maintenance and cleaning of individual items of equipment.

Inspection of fall arrest equipment is vital to ensure that it will function correctly during a fall.  Research has shown that even a 1mm nick in a lanyard can reduce its strength by 5-40%.  The HSE recommends three types of inspection for fall arrest equipment:

a)      Pre-use inspection by the user.

b)      Six-monthly inspection by a competent person (or three monthly in arduous environments).

c)      Interim inspection by a competent person when a specific concern is identified.

A lanyard or harness must be withdrawn from use: -

a)      After it has been involved in a fall.

b)      If the inspection detects a fault.

c)      When is working life has expired, (as specified by the equipment manufacturer).  

15.5.6  Ladders

Falls from ladders are one of the biggest causes of accidents at work.  Every year in the UK there are 3,000 to 4,000 accidents involving ladders, many resulting in death or serious injury.  More than half of accidents occur because ladders are not securely placed and fixed.  Many happen when the work is of 30 minutes duration or less.

Due to this large number of accidents ladders should only be used for access or for work at height under the following circumstances:

a)      More suitable work equipment is not justified due to the low risk and short duration of use.

b)      Existing features of the site, which cannot be altered, prevent the use of other equipment.

In many cases a ladder will be the only method of access.  In these cases the following must be in place:

a)      The ladder must be inspected before use.

b)      The ladder must be secured, preferably by tying it off or using a suitable ladder-securing device.  Footing by another person is the least favoured method, as people become distracted.

c)      The user must have three points on the ladder (e.g. two feet and a hand), including when carrying any equipment.

Some further points to remember about ladder safety:

·         The ladder must comply with one of the following standards:

BS 1129                  Wooden ladders.

BS 2037                  Aluminium ladders.

BS EN 131             Wooden, aluminium and glass fibre ladders.

BS 4211                  Ladders for permanent access to chimneys, other high structures, silos and bins.

·         The Safe Working Load of the ladder (also called Duty Rating or Maximum Static Vertical Load) must not be exceeded.

·         Support the foot of the ladder on a firm level surface.  Do not use loose material to raise the height of the ladder or level uneven ground.

·         Rest the head of the ladder against a solid surface capable of withstanding the imposed load and on which both stiles can rest securely.  Do not place against fragile materials or plastic guttering unless the ladder is secured by another means.

·         Extend the ladder at least 1m above the platform or other landing place or above the highest rung on which the user has to stand, unless there is another suitable handhold to reduce the risk of overbalancing.

·         Ensure rungs and shoe soles are clean and non-slippery.

·         Do not overload the ladder. Only one person should be on the ladder at any time.

·         Place the ladder at an angle of 75o (1m out for every 4m up) to minimise the risk of slipping outwards.

·         Ladders with wire reinforced stiles or rungs must have the reinforcement on the underside when in use.

·         Do not over-reach.  This is one of the biggest causes of ladder accidents.

·         Beware of electrical hazards when using aluminium ladders.  Do not use any ladders near overhead power lines.

·         Do not place the ladder where it could be easily hit, e.g. by fork-lift trucks or other traffic at the feet or overhead cranes or other equipment at the head.

·         Do not tie two shorter ladders together to obtain additional length.

·         Lower and raise the ladder safely. Use additional people if necessary.

·         Never use ladders for any horizontal purpose.

·         Ensure extension ladders overlap sufficiently.

·         The weight of the ladder should not be rested on a rung when in use or being stored.  It should be rested on the base of the stiles.

·         When not in use, keep ladders protected from the weather in a covered, ventilated area.  Do not hang things on the ladder.

Some of these points are summarised in the figure below.  

15.5.7  Stepladders

Every month more than a thousand people in the UK need hospital treatment because of accidents involving stepladders.

Whenever possible the use of a stepladder as a means of access or as a place of work should be avoided, e.g. by using properly erected scaffolding or a mobile elevating work platform.

To use a stepladder safely the following points should be followed:

·         The stepladder should be inspected before being used.

·         The stepladder must comply with one of the following standards:

BS 1129                  Wooden ladders.

BS 2037                  Aluminium ladders.

BS EN 131             Wooden, aluminium and glass fibre ladders.

BS 7377                  Step-stools.

·         The safe working load of the stepladder must not be exceeded.

·         Ensure shoes and rungs are clean and non-slippery.

·         Check the stepladder is locked into its correct position or configured appropriately for the job.

·         If stays, chains or cords are used to prevent the stepladder from spreading they should be of sufficient and equal length, kept in good order and should be renewed if found to be defective.

·         Rest it on a firm level base.

·         Position it front-on to the work.  Never work sideways.

·         Never have more than one person on the stepladder at a time.

·         Do not put loose tools where they could move or fall and cause an injury.

·         Always have both feet on a step.  Never stand on the top handrail to gain extra height.

·         Do not work from the top step unless it is designed for that purpose.

·         Never over-reach.

·         Never store a stepladder by hanging it vertically from one of the steps.

·         When not in use, keep stepladders protected from the weather in a covered, ventilated area.

The key points on the safe use of stepladders are summarised in this picture:

15.5.8  Specialist Techniques for Work at Heights

A rope access or positioning technique for working at heights, such as abseiling or boatswain’s chair, should only be used in the following circumstances:

a)      It can be performed safely.

b)      The use of other safer work equipment is not justified.

c)      Specialist safety measures are in place, e.g. two separately anchored lines.  These should be fully discussed before the work is carried out.

d)      All parties have received adequate training.

e)      Procedures are in place to deal with emergencies and rescue arrangements are in place.  This will include suitable methods of supervision and communication.

As cranes are not specifically designed for raising or lowering people, ‘man riding’ in a personal carrier on a crane should only be used as a means of access or working at height in exceptional circumstances when it is not practicable to obtain access by less hazardous techniques.  If a crane is to be used for ‘man riding’ specific safety measures are required and this should be discussed with an appropriate person in your company.

15.5.9  Other Factors

When risk assessing work at height activities the following additional points should be considered:

·         Weather.  When working outside the influence of wind speed, rain, snow, ice etc needs to be considered.

·         Emergencies.  How would you evacuate or be rescued in an emergency?  Have people been trained to carry out any rescue procedures?  Have the procedures been practised?

·         Communication.  How would you communicate any difficulties or ask for assistance?

·         Slips, trips and falls.  Ensure that you minimise the chance of slipping, tripping and falling.

·         Other people.  Ensure that you do not drop any tools or equipment on people below or in any other way compromise their safety.

15.6     End of module and next steps

Well done!  By reaching this point you will have finished studying this particular module.  You should now have sufficient knowledge to answer the questions contained at the end of the module.

Answers to the questions should be forwarded to your Health and Safety Manager.

Provided that you have answered the questions correctly, your Health and Safety Manager will forward to you your next self study module.

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