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Falls From Height A Daily Danger For British Workers

Person with their arm in a cast
9th December 2013

Between 2011 and 2012, there were 22,433 non-fatal major injuries reported, with ‘falls from height’ accounting for more than 3,140 or 14 per cent of all accidents, the second most common type of accident and accident claim following slips or trips.

In August 2013, a survey conducted by the Building Safety Group of more than 20,000 construction workers reported that falls from ladders had unexpectedly risen in the previous three months. A total of 235 accidents had been reported, of which 28 (12 per cent) were falls from height, an increase of 60 per cent from the 17 falls from ladders during the same 3 month period in 2012. 

Painters are particularly at risk. According to the survey findings around 25 per cent of workers who were injured in a fall from height were painters. All painters who reported injuries in the second quarter of the year were hurt in falls from ladders.

Bystanders can become innocent victims

According to RIDDOR, two-thirds of all injuries which cause worker fatality every day in the UK involve either a fall from height, being struck by a moving object or vehicle or being trapped by a collapsing structure.

An unsecured ladder can result in more than a workman suffering a serious or even a fatal injury. As devastating an accident though it may be, bystanders can also become innocent victims of ladders or objects falling from them. The inadequate securing of a stepladder led to a grandmother and her grandson suffering serious burns requiring skin grafts and extensive hospital treatment when a roofer’s ladder gave way. A bucket containing hot liquid bitumen fell down and spilt on both of them as they approached the ladder.

In the subsequent Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation, it was discovered that the ladder was in poor condition with rubber feet either missing or worn. The building firm pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and fined a total of £2,435 inc. costs.

Specific employer responsibilities

Under the Work at Height (Amendment) Regulations 2007, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) places specific responsibilities upon employers, the self-employed and any person who controls the work of others by ensuring:

  • 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

Where a risk assessment is carried out, a safer working method for individuals working at height can be implemented and oversights or faults, such as using a scaffolding tower rather than relying on a ladder, can be rectified to prevent a disastrous accident from taking place.

However, even when a risk assessment has taken place, there is no guarantee that the correct procedures and equipment have been put into place and followed. Any system is only as good as the people who use it and human error can undermine the best intentions.