Fall Protection: What are your legal requirements?
It’s no secret that falls are one of the leading causes of work at height fatalities in the UK – recent statistics from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) cite falls from roof edges, ladders, scaffolding and other raised platforms as accounting for 60% of these workplace deaths.
Of course, a large amount of work at height takes place within the construction and FM sectors, which means that implementing measures to protect against such accidents is absolutely imperative. And whilst the HSE recommends avoiding working at height where possible, there are clearly cases where it is a must. For such instances, ensuring that appropriate measures are taken to mitigate the risk of a fall – and the impact if one does occur – is therefore essential.
The primary way to safeguard against potentially fatal falls is with dedicated protective apparatus. Fall protection systems are designed to either prevent an accident happening completely or mitigate its impact, and are crucial for keeping workers safe – something we’ve explored previously in this blog about arrest and restraint equipment.
So, what are your legal requirements where fall protection is concerned?
Preventing a fall
Where work at height can’t be avoided, the HSE’s Work at Height Regulations 2005 say that the next step is to minimise the chance of a fall occurring. The first stage is to carry out a risk assessment (as set out in regulation 3) – or enlist a specialist to conduct one for you – to dictate how the work can be conducted in the safest way possible.
The favoured option for minimising the risk of a fall is to use an existing, secure place of work – such as a sturdy roof with a guardrail, for example – but where this isn’t possible, the next safest choice is to implement collective protection. This refers to equipment that can be installed to protect multiple people operating in the area – for instance, mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPs), specialised walkways and permanent or temporary guardrails.
Collective protection is the next best thing to avoiding work at height entirely, as it reduces the risk of a fall for numerous workers rather than just one. But for sites or situations where the above measures can’t be implemented, personal protection – such as a work restraint system for example with a horizontal safetyline – can be very effective. Typically set back at least 2.3m from a roof perimeter or open edge, the HSE recommends this type of equipment be used to restrict the user’s path and keep them away from hazardous precipices.
Mitigating the outcome
Of course, not every risk can be removed entirely, so for situations or sites where preventing a fall isn’t possible, appropriate steps must then be taken to minimise the distance or consequences of one. Again, collective protection is preferable when mitigating the outcome of a fall too, so the HSE recommends that apparatus such as safety nets, cradles and air bags are installed as close to the work area as possible. However, as with fall prevention, implementing such equipment isn’t always feasible, in which case personal protection should be considered.
In cases where individual safeguarding is needed to minimise fall distance and impact, personal fall arrest systems that use a high anchor point are an effective solution. However, it’s important to note that the Work at Height Regulations 2005 state that such apparatus can only be used if the risk assessment proves that “work can be carried out safely… and the use of other safer work equipment is not reasonably practicable”. In other words, they are a last resort and should only be relied on if absolutely necessary.
Rope access techniques – using two separately anchored working and safety lines – are similarly approved by the HSE as a means of working at height that helps to minimise fall impact. For both fall arrest and rope access methods, proper training is essential to ensure workers understand how to use the equipment securely.
Other things to bear in mind
It’s important to remember that the Work at Height Regulations 2005 aren’t there to trip you up or catch you out – they’re there to keep workers secure. But beyond the rules themselves, there are other factors that should be taken into account, to help ensure any operations conducted above the ground can be done so safely.
For example, keeping an eye on weather conditions, coordinating ongoing safety checks of the surroundings, using exclusion zones to reduce potential risk of falling objects, planning for emergencies, and mapping out a rescue procedure are all essential. Common sense goes a long way – even at great elevations! – so the inherently hazardous nature of work at height should always be at the forefront of any decisions that are made.
Are you weighing up fall protection options for your site or project? Get in touch to find out more about how we could help!
*This article has been written using the HSE’s Work at Height Regulations 2005 as a guide. Access North Structures operates in strict adherence to these rules; anyone wanting advice on the legislation should contact the HSE directly.