The Regulations set out a simple hierarchy for managing and selecting procedures and equipment for work at height. The Duty holder must:
- Avoid work at height whenever possible
- Use work equipment or other measures to prevent falls where they cannot avoid working at height
- If it is not possible to eliminate the risk of a fall, use work equipment or other measures to mitigate the consequences of a fall should one occur
The Regulations require that:
- All work at height is properly planned and organised
- All work at height takes account of weather conditions that could endanger health and safety
- Those involved in work at height are trained and competent
- The place where work at height is done is safe
- Equipment for work at height is appropriately inspected
- The risks from fragile surfaces are properly controlled
- The risks from falling objects are properly controlled
Methods of working at height or gaining height to access workplace:
Avoiding Working at height
- Stairs, ramps and lifts
- Certified Scaffolding
Collective Prevention from falls
- Fixed platforms
- MEWPS and Cherry pickers
Collective Mitigation of consequences of falling
Personal Prevention from falls
- Work Restraint
- Work Positioning and Rope Access
Personal Mitigation of consequences of falling
Last Resort (does not prevent or mitigate consequence of falls)
The decision as to what method to be used in each situation depends on many factors. Obviously, safety is paramount, however, cost, disruption and timescale are important too as is the environment in which the task is being undertaken. Each individual method of working at height has it’s own strengths and weaknesses.
Avoiding Working at Height
Stairs, ramps with handrails and temporary lifts are primarily used to avoid working at height. Unfortunately, they are not always practical and are relatively high impact and expensive if implemented for temporary situations. However, on a long term project like some building sites, temporary stairs and ramps may be worthwhile to eliminate the use of PPE.
Scaffolding is often time consuming to install, expensive and can be intrusive, but when set up and certified, it is very safe and allows freedom of movement without PPE. Once again, it can be an ideal set up for longer term (although still temporary) access. It can get in the way too and so some jobs may require the scaffolding to be re-built on occasion.
Often, installation of stairs, etc and scaffolding requires extensive use of Fall Arrest techniques and so it is only safer than any of the other techniques after full certification.
Collective Prevention from Falls
Whenever possible, methods of height access that allow multi-person use in relative safety should be used instead of personal restraint systems and PPE.
Fixed Platforms are often designed and installed as part of the original concepts of new buildings. They are also often retro-fitted to buildings to allow easy access and maintenance for tasks like window cleaning and painting. They can be expensive to install and don’t always allow access to all areas of a building, but they allow a user to work with a solid footing and can allow access to the whole height of extremely high buildings. Fixed platforms are often used with a secondary form of PPE such as a security lanyard and/or rail system to restrain the technician within the basket or platform handrails.
If the footings are solid and the task is reachable, then a cherry picker or preferably a MEWP (Mobile, Extendable, Work Platform) may be used. These are quick fix solutions to many tasks and especially useful in allowing the technician to easily carry tools and equipment to the working area. This is one of the most popular methods of working at height and can be versatile when used correctly. The technician is usually required to attach themselves to the basket in a personal restraint system to limit the chance of falling out or abusing the basket height limits i.e. standing on the rails!!!
Collective mitigation of consequences of falls
Again collective methods of minimising risk if a fall occurs, should be used to protect all personnel from danger over personal protection and PPE. This is often governed by the time scale required of the systems and therefore collective measures such as netting and airbags work well for longer term projects and the overall systems require less intensive personnel training than specific personal working at height techniques.
If an area can be made safe by use of hand rails or barriers, then this would allow multiple personnel access to the area without ever being exposed to the risk. A classic example of this would be on a flat roof – when certified rails are in place, access can be allowed in the area without any PPE.
Airbags work well to protect larger horizontal areas over relatively small drops. They can be installed on the floor below for instance and the workforce can work above them with minimal potential fall height. Tension netting can work in a similar way in terms of catching technicians should they fall, but it does not require a floor to be set upon, therefore can be much more versatile over a higher potential drop.
Personal Prevention of falls
Preventing individual users from even the potential of falls is the best option for PPE situations. For example, if a worker is required to work near an edge, a simple restraint system that stops them from actually reaching the edge would be an ideal prevention set up. This is less intrusive, cheaper and quicker than installing collective measures and when the technique is used correctly, it can be extremely safe and versatile.
Work positioning techniques allow a technician to be in suspension on a system that allows them to work safely, with minimal risk of falling. Often, access to the work position is achieved using fall arrest techniques. Upon reaching the place of work, technicians can use a positioning device to stabilise themselves and therefore work hands free. The positioning systems are usually backed up with a fall arrest system.
Rope Access is a more complicated and versatile facet of work positioning. Access and egress can be achieved using multiple techniques and the final work position can be achieved in numerous ways using either ropes or short lanyards attached to the technicians harness. Rope access technicians rely on at least 2 independent connection points, often a working rope and a back-up rope with independent devices connected to each.
Personal Mitigation of consequences of falls
Despite being arguably the most hazardous of all the techniques for working at height, Fall Arrest is probably the most widely used – Its low impact, equipment minimal, lightweight and cheap to implement. It requires less training than Rope Access and is faster to use in many situations. Pylon work, stadium rigging, scaffold installation, etc all usually require climbing the structure whilst using fall arrest protection in case anything untoward may occur.
Common systems in use are Twin lanyard techniques, inertia reels and ladder protection systems.
All PPE equipment must conform to the relevant standards, thorough risk assessments and method statements should be compiled and rescue plans should be in place at all times.