Falls from height are the biggest cause of workplace deaths and one of the major causes of serious injuries according to the HSE.
Work at height is any work where, if no precautions are put in place, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury.
This is an ever-present risk at most farms in Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset. Here are some guidelines which can help you minimise the risk.
Avoid, Prevent, Reduce
For every task requiring work at height, you must assess the risk at the outset and put appropriate measures in place to guard against it. Firstly, avoid the risk entirely if possible, for example by using extending equipment from the ground. Once you have exhausted all reasonably practicable methods of avoiding the risk, move on to prevention. Prevent falls using appropriate access equipment such as mobile elevated work platforms (MEWPs). Only once you have exhausted all reasonably practicable methods of prevention, move on to reduction. Reduce the distance and consequences of a fall if it occurs, by using safety nets, soft landing systems and personal protective equipment (PPE).
In some low-risk situations, no particular precautions may be necessary. Ladders may be used when risk assessment has shown that using equipment offering a higher level of fall protection is not justified because of the low risk and short duration of use. Anyone using a ladder must be trained in how to secure it properly and use it safely. Always make sure that the ladder has level and firm footings, does not lean against a fragile surface and is secured to prevent it from slipping.
Work should always be properly planned, supervised and carried out by competent people. When planning work at height, take into account weather conditions that could compromise the workers’ safety. We do get a lot of wind and rain in the South West! These conditions can make work at height more hazardous.
Ensure that workers can get safely to and from the work area and that equipment is suitable for the job, well maintained and regularly checked. Make sure no-one has to overreach or overload when working at height. Check that the work area (e.g. roof) is safe to work on and be particularly careful when working on or near fragile surfaces. Take steps to stop any materials from falling from the work area, or take measures to ensure that no-one can be injured, by creating exclusion zones to keep people away or placing mesh on scaffolding.
If you are unsure which type of equipment to use, once you have considered the risks, the Work at Height Access Equipment Information Toolkit[m1] is a free online resource that offers possible solutions.
Ensure that anyone engaged in working at height has the necessary skills and experience. If they are being trained, they should be supervised by a competent person. For low-risk and simple jobs, it may be possible for training to take place on the job. For jobs where more technical competence is required, more formal training may be necessary.
Scaffolding and other safety equipment must be assembled and installed correctly by qualified workers, and should be inspected in position by a competent person before use. Guidance on appointing a competent person can be found on the HSE website.
Roof work is high risk, carrying not only the danger of falling from the roof but also of falling through fragile parts of the roof that may collapse under the weight of people or equipment. Old roof lights, old liner panels on built-up sheeted roofs, non-reinforced fibre cement sheets, corroded metal sheets, glass (including wired glass), rotted chipboard, and slates and tiles are all likely to be fragile and should be treated as hazards.
Mobile Elevated Work Platforms MEWPs
If you need to use a MEWP, select the correct one for the task. Consider the ground conditions, and the height and nature of the task. Everyone using the MEWP must have been trained in its use, be familiar with its controls, and be equipped with the necessary PPE for the work. A minimum of two people in the gang is essential. If the work is to be carried out near public rights of way, appropriate signage must be erected.
MEWPs should be thoroughly examined every six months by a competent person and have an up-to-date record of thorough examination. Never allow anyone to ride in the platform while the vehicle is moving, unless it is designed to be driven from the platform. The safe working load of the platform, taking into account tools and equipment, must be observed. Ensure that levelling indicators are in working order and that alarms are functional. Where possible, operate the platform on level ground. Never work on gradients that exceed the manufacturer’s specifications. Always keep the work platform uphill of the base vehicle and never use when wind speeds exceed the manufacturer’s maximum recommendations.
When working on the MEWP, always keep both feet flat on the platform, keep your work-positioning system attached to the anchor point, secure hand tools within the platform at all times and keep the platform free of debris. When working on trees, never position the platform below a branch to be cut or pruned, and do not attach ropes between the platform and any part of the tree. If climbing from the platform into a tree, wear a suitable harness for tree climbing and be attached to the tree.