Many companies are not prepared for new working at height legislation, writes Mike Baldwin
GREAT Britain may have the second lowest rate of workplace fatalities in the EU after Sweden but falling from height continues to be one of the most common causes of fatal injury to workers.
Deaths resulting from falls from height rose in 2003-04 from 50 to 67 - the first increase since 2000-01 and coming after a general downward trend since 1997-8.
Much has been made of the new proposed alterations to regulations covering working at height. It cannot be stressed enough that these changes will affect not only the people working at height but also anyone with responsibility for staff working off the ground.
The UK government wants to achieve a 10 per cent reduction in deaths through falls from height by 2008. Figures from the Health & Safety Executive - Statistics of Fatal Injuries 2003-04 - show that, while the number of fatal injuries in the construction industry during 200304 was the same as the year before, 30 per cent of overall worker fatalities occurred in this sector.
The rate of fatal injury to workers in general fell in the 1990s until 1998-9 but rose substantially in the two years to 2000-01.Since then, the rate of fatal injury to construction workers has fallen and the 2003-04 figure of 3.55 deaths per hundred thousand workers is the lowest seen in 12 years.
But the most common fatal injury to construction workers during the period 1996-97 to 2003-04 was falling from height - just over half of all deaths, which mainly involved falls from roofs, ladders, scaffolds and raised platforms.
In 2003-04, 38 fatalities to workers in the construction industry were as a direct result of falls from height - up five from the previous year.Of these, 31 were a result of falling from a height of more than 2 m.
There is still a long way to go, even though some of the trends are clearly in the right direction and the new regulations are designed to help with this.
With the European Directive on Temporary Working at Height (2001/45/EC), any company that uses work equipment at height such as ladders and scaffolding, will have to conform.
Worryingly it appears many companies have not taken on board the full ramifications of the impending changes to the regulations.
No one should be complacent.There is no guarantee that there will be a transitional period after the regulations are introduced.
The HSE will be more than prepared to shut down work sites if its inspectors find practices are not up to scratch during spot checks.
New regulations will soon be in place but with the equipment and training readily available, there is no real excuse why the Government's target of reducing deaths from falls should not be achieved.
Mike Baldwin is training manager at the Health & Safety Training Academy, set up by Capital Safety Group Northern Europe, Runcorn See the Safety Supplement on page 27.The Health and Safety Executive's health and safety summit conference, Ownership, Leadership and Partnership, takes place on February 24, 2005.