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2020 / 2021 Edition

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Working at height and from ladders

  • 26 August 2016 - 14:20

    Every year more than 4,000 people are seriously injured when falling from height. People think of working at height as working from scaffolding, mobile elevated work platforms or cherry pickers. The law used to talk about work over 2m being working at height but it has been shown that the majority of accidents actually happen when working under 2m.

    There are some clear and simple guidelines to follow if you are considering working at height, called the hierarchy of control:

    • first, avoid work at height where possible;
    • if this is not possible then prevent falls from height; and, failing that;
    • reduce the consequences of a fall.

    If you cannot avoid working at height then always ensure the following:

    • all work at height is properly planned and organized
    • 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 of working on or near fragile surfaces are properly managed
    • the equipment used for work at height is properly inspected and maintained.

    There is a myth that you can’t work from a ladder. It is true that this is not ideal and ladders should be used for access rather than as a working platform, but it can be done if you keep the time to a minimum (no more than 30 minutes), you do not need to carry a heavy load (more than 10kg) and you are able to keep three points of contact (usually two feet and a hand).

    On a ladder or stepladder do not:

    • overload it – the person and anything they are taking up should not exceed the highest load stated on the ladder;
    • overreach – keep your belt buckle (navel) inside the stiles and both feet on the same rung throughout the task.

    If you undertake work that could pose a risk then you need to make your employees more aware of the hazards they face. Complete a ‘toolbox talk’ on working at height. Chat about possible ways the work could be completed without climbing. I like to start my training sessions with the following simple question:

    Ask the team if, when they walked into the office, they thought about climbing on the table and walking up and down before they sat in their chair or grabbed a cup of tea. I bet you they say no, don’t be so stupid. Then tell them that that is the height that causes most serious injury and death. Get them to think about their place of work and the jobs they do. Are there any areas where they may climb up two or three feet? Don’t tell them they can’t do it but challenge them to consider the risks of the task; get them to think about how it can be completed more safely and try a put some better controls in place.

    For a few years now the HSE has been running a campaign called ‘shattered lives’. It has done this because people keep on dying. Think about your workplace, think about your employees, and think about their families.

    If you would like a copy of a toolbox talk or some simple guidelines on working at height or using ladders and stepladders, then please contact me at: [email protected]

    Tel: (01780) 438886 or 07799 656303


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