Almost half of all fatalities in construction result from falls from height, according to data published by the Health and Safety Executive.
As a result, there is a strong focus on avoiding working at height wherever possible.
However, when working at height is a necessity, creating systems that prevent falls and minimise their consequences are imperative.
This approach is firmly embedded within the Work at Height Regulations 2005. However, one area which can sometimes be overlooked is the requirement to develop a robust rescue plan to use in cases of emergency.
The regulations state that “every employer shall ensure that work at height is properly planned” and “planning of work includes planning for emergencies and rescue”.
My team at BT is responsible for the health, safety and welfare of around 120 radio and rigging engineers that maintain almost 300 radio towers and 6,000 sites that host radio equipment. The equipment is almost always located at height, with some radio towers reaching more than 100 m.
But what rescue plans do we have in place?
What the rules say
Well, the regulations are clear: you must have an up-to-date and appropriate rescue plan before any climbing takes place.
A good starting point is to ask workers on site if they’re familiar with the rescue plan. If their first instinct is to call 999 then it’s time for you to develop and communicate a plan.
The regulations state that you cannot rely on the emergency services.
Apart from the issues around delays in attending – which can be a problem in remote or confusing locations – the emergency services will not necessarily have the skills or equipment to treat or recover someone injured at height. As a result, they do not have a duty to perform a rescue in such circumstances.
Within BT, before any climbing takes place a full rescue plan must be developed, including a detailed description of how to find the site, not just the postcode. The rescue plan dictates that suitable equipment is available on site and that there is a competent person to carry out rescues.
“There must also be a fully inspected rescue kit on site, ready for use and preferably at the base of the structure”
There must also be a fully inspected rescue kit on site, ready for use and preferably at the base of the structure. Longer strops form part of the kit so that we can undertake rescues on larger structures and monopoles.
As well as a first aid kit, we also ensure a method of emergency communication is available. All parties are trained to use the kit and have regular refreshers to make sure workers are up-to-date with the contents of the plan.
It is important that everyone is familiar with the plan and it is well rehearsed. In the event of a rescue situation, BT follows the ‘hierarchy of rescue’, where the preferred option is ‘self-rescue’.
Then there is ‘remote rescue’ – remotely lowering the casualty while the rescuer is in a safe area, for example – and lastly, ‘one-to-one’ rescue if required.
Above all, always remember that there is no safe system of work without a means of rescue.
Stewart Mardle is senior tower & rigging policy manager at BT and holder of a NEBOSH Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety