Almost all of the injuries caused by working at height are the result of falls. The fact that the number of work related falls from height still run into many thousands each year in this supposedly health and safety obsessed country appears to point to a certain blind spot in health and safety management within some companies. According to the Health and Safety Executive, the most common cause of workplace fatality remain falls when working at height. In 2011/12 the HSE 3 067 major injuries with a fifth of those major falls (653 to be precise) having occurred in the construction industry (653). After the construction industry, the next highest injury numbers, according to the HSE, were in transport & storage, manufacturing industry and wholesale & retail premises.
Contributory factors that feed into the common causes of injuries from working at height can emanate from all levels of an organisation; from the very top which might have an over emphasis on company profitability, or have a suspect culture, an ineffective structure or inadequate health and safety risk management programme, through the middle management tiers who might be having issues with engaging with and disseminating a health and safety culture, failing in process design, inspection and maintenance or equipment purchasing, right down to the workers who actually have to work at height.
At that lowest tier the factors that generate the common causes of injuries, influenced by those factors already described, can manifest as a lack of competence and training, flawed team working, low morale and motivation, fatigue, poor communication, poor health and safety compliance, inadequate levels of risk perception or situational awareness, inadequate resources and equipment and a generally unsafe working environment. That is a heady brew and can result in the following unfortunately all too common accidents:
- Falling from incorrectly sited and secured ladders.
- Falling through holes and fragile materials such as glass (skylights) on roofs due to a lack of risk assessment or availability of correct equipment.
- Falling from trees due to no or incorrectly used ropes and harnessing and/or poor climbing technique.
- Falling from scaffolding due to it collapsing because of its faulty or inadequate construction or due to unsafe access or lack of guards.
- Falling from pylons and lattice towers due to a lack of or incorrect use of personal protective equipment or working at height in adverse weather conditions.
- Falling from forklift truck operator platforms or the forks due to a lack of training and risk perception.
- Falling from lorries, plant machinery, warehouse racking or in the course of window cleaning for any one or a combination of the above reasons.
Whilst the frequency and duration of work at height has usually contributed to raising or lowering the chance of a worker suffering injury, it is always the robustness of a company’s health and safety regime that will the primary factor in determining how safe (or not) their employees will be when working at height.
Tim Bishop is senior partner of Bonallack and Bishop – Solicitors with a specialist team of work related accident experts. For more information about how to claim compensation for industrial disease or a workplace accident, phone their work accident team on 01722 422300 or visit their specialist website at http://www.workaccidentsolicitors.co.uk.