Many employees are required to work at height – from technicians in the telecommunications and windmill industries and on power grids, to operators responsible for maintaining roofs and facades, window washers, construction workers, and maintenance technicians.
Every year, more than 10 percent of all industrial accidents are caused by falls. These accidents occur in all sectors, but the highest percentage, and with the most serious consequences, is in the buildings sector.
Work situations that carry a risk of falling can result from:
- roofing, carpentry, maintenance work on roofs and facades
- the way certain areas are accessed: ladders, stairs, walkways, scaffolds
- towers or other equipment (scaffolding, trucks)
Even relatively low heights are not without danger: in fact, every year many work accidents are caused by falling off ladders and stepladders.
Preventing the risk of falls from height
Developments in the area of identifying work situations where workers are exposed to the risk of falling have been a struggle. It is also possible to provide solutions for hazardous work situations.
Consideration should be given to all work situations which involve a risk of falling at height, including situations that only occur occasionally. It also includes reviewing the conditions for access to the areas where there is a risk of falling.
We also see that the roof (“The Fifth facade”) is used more frequently for certain activities. Think of all the thousands of square meters of solar panels and green roofs that have been installed recently. This also exponentially increases the frequency the roofs are accessed. This means we enter the risk zone more often to conduct inspections, maintenance and the like.
When should preventing risks of falls from height be addressed?
- during the design of a work or working tools.
- during the analysis of the work situation.
- during the analysis of maintenance procedure for the installation.
This approach often requires different parties to be involved (client, architects, prevention advisors, contractors, equipment users) to reach a satisfactory solution.
Some general principles of prevention for working at height
- Eliminate the risk: (example) by completing some assembly techniques on the ground and then lifting the structures to the required height by crane.
- Assess which risks cannot be avoided, determine if these can be limited and whether they are directly related to the effect of working at height (height where work takes place, frequency of access, response time).
- By creating a risk analysis, we get a better picture of the situation and we can take appropriate measures in time.
- Preventing risks at source: implementing a suitable solution (e.g. providing an anchor point, steel cable track or guardrail).
- Collective fall protection such as guardrails, scaffolding and platforms should always be the preferred solution. If this is not possible, individual fall protection systems such as fall arrest devices and harnesses should be used
- Provide instructions for employees: compulsory training in the use of equipment for work at height, both collective and personal protective equipment. Provide clear instructions in locations that are visible before accessing zones with a risk of falling.