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Overlooking precautions when working at height

27/10/2015

Every workplace, factory, school, office will face health and safety risks. For most these regulations are followed and respected, although there are still many who overlook the importance of these precautions put in place for our own safety.

The cost of falls from height are potentially huge, both physically and financially, and with current legislation in place to protect people there should be no excuse for poor work practices. Unfortunately most accidents and injuries could be avoided by the use of appropriate work equipment. This led Height, Lift & Shift (HLS) to conduct some research into how people carry out tasks at height, and how they manage manual handling during these tasks. The findings were mixed, with many reinforcing what many of us already feel to be true.

Preventing falls is something that more normally falls within our remit than preventing slips and HLS found that a huge 90% of the tasks we observed being performed at height were done at some point using ladders or unofficial access. While ladders are sometimes the most appropriate piece of equipment to complete a task, there are many contraindications for their use (more on that later…)

Reducing this over-reliance on ladders and unofficial access (the office chair, a desk, even an upturned box) is a key way for employees and employers to reduce the risk, lost working days, and nuisance factors including musculoskeletal issues, caused by poor manual handling and working at height practices. HLS also observed that users have a tendency to use whatever equipment is closest to hand. This puts organisations at greater risk of breeching HSE working at height regulations, and can put employees at unnecessary risk from the use of inappropriate equipment.

Around 49% of all tasks at height were carried out weekly or on a more frequent basis, which illustrates how integral tasks carried out at height are to the smooth running of our offices, shops, hospitals, schools and universities. Ensuring people have good, effective equipment to complete their work in the safest, most efficient manner possible is key to organisations who take their responsibilities seriously.

Another finding was that there are significant differences between management and operators perception of organisational safety culture. This is an important point, because while there may be excellent management structures and policies in place within an organisation, if these are not filtering down intact to those completing the jobs then they are much less likely to have the desired positive impact. Creating a positive health and safety culture needs to involves employees form all levels of the business. Encouraging employees to share responsibility on all tasks involving work at height and/ or manual handling are well planned and organised.

Following this research HLS were able to gain insight into what the real world of working at height looks like. HLS therefore believe business should invest in safe working at height equipment for the following reasons:

  • It allows employers to meet current HSE legislation and guidance. By ensuring good practice and a positive culture of health and safety companies reduce the risk of reputational or financial damage, and promote good employee relations;
  • Employers can improve safety and employee welfare by investing in good access equipment. Helping reduce the impact of employee ill-health, wellbeing issues and improving absence rates; and
  • Costs could be massively reduced for employers, especially those working at height or with dangerous machinery. Avoiding the costs associated with work-related injuries; illness; increased insurance premiums; absences; sick pay; overtime; loss of a contracts; and legal bills makes sound business sense.

HLS developed a user-adoption programme, to ensure that the equipment provided to operators is suitable for each individual task; to provide the correct training in the use of that equipment; and to address the cultural change required to achieve behavioural change.  This approach ensures that when an organisation invests in improved safety they achieve the return on investment they are expecting, both through tangible productivity benefits, and the less tangible risk reduction benefits.

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