SAFE WORKING AT HEIGHT (GUEST POST)

by pat brownlee on March 7, 2013

From Jason of riskatmedia.com 

There are particular hazards associated with working at height, some of these hazards accompany almost all types of work activity, such as manual handling and slips and trips.  Others, such as falls from height and contact with moving or falling objects are of particular concern to personnel who work at height.  Falls from height are the leading cause of fatal injuries at work. While contact with moving or falling objects is the third greatest cause of workplace fatality and the second greatest cause of major accidents at work. 

Manual Handling  Manual handling related activities are a major cause of occupational injury.  Low back pain, joint injuries and repetitive strain injuries affect over a million people each year, and many of these injuries are the result of manual handling. Prior to carrying out any unavoidable manual handling activity, you should help to protect yourself from injury by following good manual handling practices.  Consider the task to be carried out and the nature of the load, and be aware of your own capabilities and the environment in which you are working. In particular, tools, equipment and materials can be extremely heavy and you should give consideration to safe manual handling practices before undertaking any job that involves lifting these items while working at height, where manual lifts may be made more difficult by space restrictions and the potential to fall. 

Slip, Trips and Falls  Slips and trips represent a significant cause of work related injury.  Slips and trips can result from contamination, obstacles, inappropriate footwear, reduced visibility, the environment and people’s attitudes. It is extremely important that elevated work platforms and access ladders are kept clear of slip and trip hazards that could result in a possible fall from height.  By removing waste materials to waste skips you can contribute significantly to good housekeeping.  You can also reduce the risk of slips and trips by properly routing any cables that you use, by only taking the tools, equipment and materials necessary to the job aloft, by appropriately storing all such items and keeping walkways clear, by ensuring that you always wear appropriate footwear, and by taking responsibility for your own and your colleagues safety and containing any spills that you might discover. Scaffolders should ensure that no loose scaffolding materials are ever left on a finished scaffold. 

Contact with Moving or Falling Objects  Contact with moving or falling objects is a significant hazard to personnel involved in work at height, as well as to personnel who may be working in the areas beneath operations conducted at height.   Access to the area in which you are working from a ladder should be restricted by barriers when moving vehicles, trailers and hand bogies pose a collision risk.  Suitable barriers and signs should be used to keep the access roads used by Mobile Elevated Work Platforms clear. This will reduce the risk of collision with structures, people and other mobile plant and vehicles.  Care should still be taken to ensure that the platform’s boom or knuckles do not impede the access and working areas used by other plant and vehicles. 

Safe working practices should always be followed to prevent the fall of materials from a height.  All tools, equipment and materials essential to work aloft should be appropriately stowed to ensure that they do not fall.  Any excess materials and all debris should be removed from elevated work platforms, all loose items should be placed in storage boxes, bagged or secured where possible, edge protection should be used to prevent items falling from sloping roofs and all items you need to carry while using a ladder should be held in a belt pouch.  Where there is still a possibility that materials may fall from a height, access to the work area should be restricted by barriers and appropriate warning signs or by posting a banks-man. 

Elevated Working Platforms  Where work at height cannot be avoided, safe working practices should always be followed to reduce the risk of falling any distance which could cause injury.  You should always use an approved and safe means of gaining access to elevated working platforms.  Wherever possible, work at height should be carried out from an appropriate working platform with edge protection, making use of a safety harness and any other available work equipment and fall arrest systems to prevent falls from height.  Where this is not possible, work of a light nature and short duration can be undertaken from a ladder, while other work can be undertaken by suitably trained, experienced and medically fit individuals using a body harness and other fall arrest equipment identified during detailed planning.  You should never use temporary makeshift working platforms.

Work platforms on scaffolding should have full guardrails and toe boards.  A safety harness is required if full guarding is not possible, or if the work involves reaching over. Mesh should be installed if scaffolding is designed specifically to store bulk materials. 

Appropriate fall arrest equipment attached to a suitable anchor point inside the platform should be used whenever you work from a mobile elevated work platform. 

Edges of roofs from which a person could fall should be provided with a barrier that is properly constructed, anchored and fitted with toe boards as appropriate.  Roof openings should be protected by barriers or covers.  Fragile roof areas should be identified and protected by a barrier, or fitted with crawling boards, crawling ladders or duck boards that are properly supported.

Where ladders must be used, they should be securely lashed at the top, tied at the bottom, or held by a second person to ensure that they do not move or slip.  Ladders should be long enough to allow 3 or 4 rungs above the working step, 3 points of contact should be maintained at all times and a harness clipped to a secure anchor point should always be used. 

Structural Integrity  Elevated working platforms should be structurally sound to prevent accidents which could lead to falls from height.  All scaffolding should be erected by trained and competent personnel, they should verify that all materials are fit for purpose and that the load bearing ground and surfaces are fit for purpose.  Never be tempted to make unauthorised alterations to scaffolding. Prior to using any scaffolding on site, you must check that the scaff tag is in date and valid.  Scaffolding should be inspected weekly and following adverse weather conditions by a competent person.  If you are at all unsure that the appropriate inspections have been carried out, do not use the scaffolding and report to your manager. 

All ladders should also conform to the relevant Standard, be free from patent defect, and be inspected once a week by a competent person.  If you have any reason to doubt that a ladder has been appropriately inspected, do not use it and report to your manager.

Lanyards should be inspected before each use and should be subjected to a detailed inspection by a competent person at least once every six months.  If you have reason to think that any fall arrest equipment has not been properly inspected, please do not use it and discuss the matter with your manager. 

Planning  To reduce the risk of personnel falling all work at height should be suitably planned. Where the use of a body harness cannot be avoided for work at height, a competent manager should provide a plan which incorporates safe access and egress, as well as the type of harness and double lanyard that should be used. 

A suitable rescue plan should also be in place where a harness or restraints are used.  The rescue plan should ensure that effective communication links have been established so that assistance can be summoned. 

Training  All personnel need appropriate training and experience to safely carry out operations which involve working at height.  Only suitably trained and authorised personnel are allowed to use mobile elevated work platforms and body harnesses.  Cradles should only be used by personnel who are suitably trained and experienced. 

Human Factors  Human factors play a significant role in safe working at height.  For this reason, personnel should not work at height if you are tired or otherwise unable to give your full attention to the task at hand.  If you feel that your medical history, age, health or fitness might affect your ability to carry work at height, please discuss this with your manager.  Remember that you should never come to work in possession of, or under the influence of, alcohol or drugs.  These substances expose everyone on site to risks that are unnecessary and easily avoided. 

Environments  The risks associated with work at height can be increased by the environment in which you are required to work, Hot and cold environments can result in physical stresses and affect concentration, as they have the potential to raise or lower you body core temperature beyond safe limits.  Confined spaces limit your ability to move around, can be poorly lit and may increase the length of time taken to provide medical assistance in the event of an emergency. It is therefore extremely important that you follow safe working practices when working at height in these environments. 

Hot Works  Particular attention should be given to establishing a safe place of work and to following safe working practices when you carry out hazardous tasks, such as hot works, at height.  The risks associated with fumes, explosions and electric shock can result in falls from height.  Ensure that you use appropriate Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE, that you use and store gas bottles safely and that all items of electrical equipment carry a valid appliance testing label. 

Personal Protective Equipment PPE  PPE is an important means of reducing the risks associated with work at height.  At least standard PPE with safety glasses, construction hard hats and gloves should be worn, with a harness attached to suitable fall arrest equipment while accessing or working on elevated platforms.  Additional PPE, such as dust masks, breathing apparatus and hearing protection may be required for particular tasks, as outlined in the relevant risk assessment.

You should also wear close fitting garments, not wear a tie or jewellery and tie back long hair and long beards to reduce the risk of entanglement.  Only PPE in good working condition will reduce the hazards associated with your work, so it is important to remove, clean and store your PPE correctly. 

Electricity and Overhead Power Lines  Electric shock can result in death and severe burns.  In addition, serious injury can occur if an individual falls from height as a result of an electric shock. All items of electrical equipment should carry a valid test certificate or label to reduce the risk of electric shock.  Testing should be carried out by suitably trained individuals.   If any item of electrical equipment does not carry a valid test label, it should not be used and you should inform your manager.  You should also carry out a visual pre-use inspection of all equipment to ensure that it remains undamaged. 

Because of the risk of electrocution, aluminium ladders should never be used where there is a risk of contact with electricity.

Electric shock can also occur as a result of contact with overhead power lines.  Where mobile elevated work platforms are to be used near overhead power lines, an appointed person should plan and supervise operations.  Power lines should be made dead where at all possible.  Where this is not possible, work under power lines should be of short duration and all appropriate restraints and barriers should be in place to ensure that the platform cannot reach or accidentally come into contact with live power lines. 

Mobile Elevated Work Platforms MEWPs   Other safe working practices are necessary to prevent mobile elevated work platforms from overturning during work at height.  The manufacturer’s safe working load should never be exceeded and the platform should never be operated in high winds.  You should also avoid handling sheet type materials in windy conditions.

Where the use of a platform on uneven ground cannot be avoided, they should be used at reduced speed, they should not be turned on slopes and the use of road plates should be considered. 

Emergency Procedures  In the event of an emergency while working at height, isolate any equipment that you have been using, make your work area safe and use a safe means of egress to evacuate the area according to the site emergency procedures.  If you are involved in an accident, seek immediate assistance. 

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