Safe work at height needs feet firmly on the ground when planning projects, says James Sainsbury.
It’s widely accepted by governing bodies that the hierarchy of fall protection should provide the starting point in considering what type of system is required, with three steps to consider:
- Eliminate the risk – Avoid work at height where possible or locate plant and equipment in safe spots where there is no risk of a fall.
- Guard the hazard – When work at height is essential, ensure workers are not exposed to unnecessary risks; consider providing a parapet or guardrail to eliminate the fall hazard.
- Protect the worker – Where it is not possible to eliminate the risk of falling, use a suitable fall protection system to minimise the consequences of a fall. This can be achieved with a fall arrest or fall restraint system – two completely different entities.
The terms ‘fall restraint’ and ‘fall arrest’ are now commonly used regarding fall protection. However, it is vital to understand where and why a particular system should be specified.
Restraint systems allow a person access to conduct their duties but prevent them from reaching a point where a fall could occur.
These are generally suitable for work at the edge of a hazard – for example, where there is a need to maintain gutters along the edge of a roof, or if there are other potential fall hazards such as a fragile roof, roof lights or air vents.
“The industry took a step forward with the introduction of CDM a year ago. But has it had the desired effect?”
If fitting a fall restraint system, the system should be tested to fall arrest loads to ensure a person’s safety in situations where the system may be misused (that is when the person wears an over-length lanyard to access a roof’s edge).
Restraint systems are generally positioned more than 2 m from the hazard. This is because common practice is for the worker to be connected to the system by a fixed-length 1.5 m lanyard.
A fall arrest system provides maximum freedom of movement for workers and in doing so allows them to reach the point where a fall could occur. However, any fall will be arrested and so allow the person to either rescue themselves or be rescued.
The industry took a step forward with the introduction of CDM a year ago. But has it had the desired effect of pushing fall protection to the forefront of projects?
“The ideal scenario is one where fall protection is built in at the earliest stage”
While drawing up a safety plan forms part of the regulations, we find that some architects assign that responsibility to surveyors. While we’re not criticising firms taking that route, the optimal approach is when our installers or ourselves can actually talk through projects at the design stage. It’s certainly heading in the right direction, but it’s not there yet.
The ideal scenario is one where fall protection is built in at the earliest stage. It doesn’t matter whether the project is a multi-million-pound masterpiece or a more workaday industrial site – the approach must be the same.
For example, Latchways is working closely with installer partners on several high-profile rail infrastructure refurbishments and rebuilds.
We worked with Eurosafe on the Reading station refurb to provide fall protection and walkways for use both during construction and in future maintenance. This involved working alongside specifiers to design and produce a system
that would meet all protection needs. Early planning and consideration of the challenges – with all parties involved – was absolutely critical.
It was vital the station stayed operational, so construction of the new platforms was essentially done offsite, then transported and positioned on site. This method is nothing new but every project can present its unique challenges and demand consideration from every point cited in the risk assessment.
Far from finished
Working at height doesn’t begin and end with getting the installation up and running.
It’s often the maintenance of buildings and any assets at height, such as solar panels or HVAC outlets that necessitate employees accessing roofing and needing to navigate possibly fragile roofing structures or light shafts. It might be that solar panels have been retrofitted, in which case an access policy needs to be reviewed.
The next time you’re travelling across London take a look at the roof of London Bridge’s platforms or those at Farringdon. Chances are you might spot small metal domes at intervals: they’re anchor devices – constant force posts – that form the heart of our systems and have a pleasing aesthetic.
It’s possible to keep every single worker safe when working at height and I’m confident I speak for each one of my colleagues in the fall protection industry when I ask that safety systems are the first consideration, every time.
James Sainsbury is southern regional manager of Latchways Fall Protection