You’ll Never Walk Alone” may be Liverpool FC fans' time-honoured anthem, but off the pitch, if you’re an ordinary Merseyside tradesman with concerns about “falls from height” at a job site then you could be all on your own, especially if rules over safety harnesses and restricted working areas are not in play.
“Falls from height” are long-known to be one of the biggest safety risks and the cause of significant accident claims within the building and construction industry, recording a total of nearly 7,400 major and over-3 day injuries between 2011 and 2012 (RIDDOR).
In the same 12 month period, falls from height in the building sector accounted for almost 20 per cent of worker fatalities, nearly twice as many as roofers ( 12 per cent) and almost four times more than other building tradesman and basic constructions occupations (5 per cent) (RIDDOR).
Many of the accidents and injuries could have been so easily avoided were it not for the persistence of bad practices, such as failure to conduct a proper risk assessment, passing the responsibility for safety to others, cutting corners to reduce costs / speed up the work, or simply a lack of training or knowledge.
A fall from height, which occurred at a community centre in Liverpool’s Anfield area, may be seen as an example of where a number of factors contributed to a 39 year old “volunteer” worker losing his life when his safety harness snapped and he fell through a false roof.
At the subsequent court hearing, the works supervisor said he had “asked for steel lines”, to which, they could be safely attached as they installed insulation into the roof 30ft above the ground. However, his request had been refused by the community centre’s assistant manager - who was acting unofficially as the health and safety officer - with further advice offered by the community leader to “not work anywhere dangerous”.
The work supervisor was extremely concerned over the lack of safety provision, who “...at every stage - thought something would go wrong...” and at one point told the centre manager that, “ if anything goes pear-shaped it’s down to you ( as the health and safety officer). In his opinion, the entire area should have been “boxed off”.
The 47 year old supervisor also went on to admit to the court that despite having never used a safety harness in 30 years as a builder he had not read the accompanying instructions. As a result, he was unaware of not carrying out the incorrect actions of extending the lanyard, attaching untested ropes and tying the ropes around sharp edges.
It is essential that all workers onsite should always be fully trained and well informed of all risks involved with any aspect of the work to be carried out in order that all aspects of work can be properly planned and managed, and tasks constantly monitored for risk prevention.
Under no circumstances should any attempt be made to work on a fragile roof or flooring without support lines having first been put into place.
As part of the Work at Height (Amendment) Regulations 2007, applicable for those who work at height,
the HSE state that duty holders must ensure:
• All work at height is properly planned and organised
• Those involved in work at height are competent
• The risks from work at height are assessed and appropriate work equipment is selected and used
• The risks from fragile surfaces are properly controlled
• Equipment for work at height is properly inspected and maintained