Preventing falls when working at height: A JMAC Safety Systems Guide

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Preventing falls when working at height: A JMAC Safety Systems Guide

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Learn how to prevent falls when working at height with our comprehensive guide

Preventing falls when working at height: best practice and strategy

‘Work at height’ by definition is any place where, if there were no safety precautions in place, a person could fall a distance and suffer personal injury.  According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), working at height remains the single biggest cause of death in the UK construction industry. In 2021/2022, 29 workers died as a result of an accident caused by working at height. Over 60 per cent of deaths during working at height involve falling from ladders, scaffolds, working platforms, roof edges and through fragile roofs. Despite long-term reductions in the number of workers killed by work activities each year, such cases continue. In addition, of 441,000 non-fatal injuries in 2021/2022, 35,280 are known to be falls from height across all industries. That’s 97 accidents every day! Preventing falls is therefore more vital than ever. JMAC Safety System’s Guide will explain the types of fall hazard, how we can improve workplace safety, tips for accident prevention and how to comply with safety standards. We will also suggest equipment which can help mitigate falls and injury.

Understanding the risks of working at heights

Roof work is high risk and falls from roofs, through fragile roofs and fragile roof lights are one of the most common causes of construction workplace death and serious injury. Unsafe working conditions, including slippery, deteriorated work surfaces, adverse weather conditions such as wind, rain and snow, plus overhanging structures and moving equipment are elements which greatly affect work at height and can cause falls and accidents. Inadequate fall protection equipment is another factor. JMAC’S Macdeck provides a safe solution for working at height, allowing you to work in confidence knowing you have the strongest safety platform under your feet. Macdeck provides a robust working platform which takes care of your operatives’ safety, helping them work more efficiently on a profiled non-slip surface with high visibility. The system also comes with a dual locking pin safety feature which can be viewed from above to show that the system is locked correctly.

Learn more about how you can keep your workers safe when working at heights with JMAC’s Macdeck.

Employee training

The best way to prevent falls is with proper employee training, selecting appropriate equipment for your specific work environment, ensuring that all equipment is properly fitted to each individual who will be using it and frequent equipment inspections. As you are assessing the safety of your team while working at height, it’s worth baring in mind that there are three different types of fall protection systems: Fall Elimination, Fall Prevention and Fall Arrest. Fall Elimination: the safest way to prevent a fall is to remove employees’ requirement to work at height and to find ways to complete tasks on the ground. Fall Prevention: when working at height is unavoidable, ensure everyone’s safety by creating a fall prevention plan which utilises fall guards and restraints to make sure you are eliminating risks where possible. Fall Arrest: if you have analysed the task at hand and there is no way you can prevent or eliminate a fall, you need to implement a fall arrest system as a way to anchor the user to the workplace structure by a series of interconnected components that, if a fall should take place, will stop the user mid-air. 

Employer’s obligation to their teams

Employers have an obligation to provide their teams with the tools and equipment they need to do their jobs safely. When workers perform jobs at height, this includes providing equipment which reduces the risk of a fall. Unfortunately, the majority of falls on construction sites occur because workers do not have the protective equipment they need to prevent falls, or the equipment they do have is faulty or ill-fitting.

Similarly, errors in fall prevention systems make fall protection ineffective, leading to accidents. Falls from scaffolding can be due to improperly installed guardrails, scaffolding collapse, improper rigging of safety nets, missing guardrails, a lack of personal fall arrest systems or fall protection systems which fail to meet weight-bearing requirements. The regular inspection of equipment and systems is therefore essential. In addition, failure to educate workers on fall prevention techniques and safety protocols can result in a lack of awareness of the dangers which are faced when working at height. Introducing engineering controls which reduce or prevent hazards coming into contact with workers is essential. Engineering controls can include modifying equipment or the workspace, using protective barriers, ventilation and more. The creation of a fall protection or safety plan for workers in unprotected elevated work areas (generally at heights above six feet), aims to provide a safe working environment and helps to administer the use of fall protection measures, techniques and equipment.

A fall protection plan is unique to each construction job site and assesses the fall hazards associated with each construction task for the job site. A plan should include elements such as:

* Your company policy

* A description of the fall protection system you intend to use

* A guide to the implementation of the fall protection plan

* Conventional fall protection measures

* Other fall protection measures

Best practices for fall prevention

As with any working environment, it’s important to identify potential sources of danger on your site before work starts. In the construction industry, this means conducting a thorough job hazard risk assessment and putting sensible measures in place to control them and make sure they stay controlled. The following are all requirements which, by law, you need to consider when planning and undertaking work at height. You must:

* Take into consideration any weather conditions which could compromise worker safety

* Check that the place where work at height is to be undertaken is safe. Each place where people will work at height needs to be checked every time before use

* Stop materials or objects falling or, if it is not reasonably practicable to prevent objects falling, take suitable and sufficient measures to make sure no one can be injured. You can do this with the use of toe boards, screens or a guardrails system, debris nets or catch platforms. You could also build a canopy structure to prevent falling objects or barricade the area below where objects could fall.

* Plan for emergencies and rescue (agree to a set procedure for evacuation). Think about foreseeable situations and make sure employees know the emergency procedures.

Choosing the right fall protection equipment

The five basic methods of fall protection are guardrails, travel restraint, fall restriction, fall arrests, and control zones.To select the appropriate equipment for the job, consider the risks and the possible solutions. Work equipment, for example scaffolding, needs to be assembled or installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions and in keeping with industry guidelines. Where the safety of the work equipment depends on how it has been installed or assembled, an employer should ensure it is not used until it has been inspected in that position by a competent person (someone who has the necessary skills, experience and knowledge to manage health and safety). Use and maintenance of equipment is paramount, especially with equipment exposed to conditions that may cause it to deteriorate. Equipment should be inspected at suitable intervals appropriate to the environment and use. Do an inspection every time something happens that may affect the safety or stability of the equipment, eg adverse weather or accidental damage. You are required to keep a record of any inspection for types of work equipment including: guard rails, toe-boards, barriers or similar collective means of protection; working platforms (any platform used as a place of work or as a means of getting to and from work, (a gangway) that are fixed (a scaffold around a building) or mobile (a mobile elevated working platform (MEWP) or scaffold tower); or a ladder.


Any working platform used for construction work and from which a person could fall more than two metres must be inspected:


*After assembly in any position

*After any event liable to have affected its stability;


In addition, the Health and Safety Executive only outlines four mandatory, legally-required protections for a construction site. Provisions must be made for:

*Head protection

*Foot protection

*Hi-Visibility Clothing

*Body protection

Creating a culture of safety at height

Encouraging worker participation in safety programs is essential, and it may also be a good idea to offer incentives for safe work practices such as a bonus scheme or time off. However, employees also have general legal duties to take reasonable care of themselves and others who may be affected by their actions, and to co-operate with their employer to enable their health and safety duties and requirements to be complied with. The law states that employees, or those working under someone else’s control, must:

*Use the equipment and safety devices supplied or given to them properly, in accordance with any training and instructions (unless they think that would be unsafe, in which case they should seek further instructions before continuing).

The role of management in promoting safety is to consult your employees (either directly or via safety representatives), in good time, on health and safety matters.  When selecting equipment for work at height, employers must:

*Provide the most suitable equipment appropriate for the work

*Take account of factors such as the working conditions (eg weather), the nature, frequency and duration of the work, and the risks to the safety of everyone where the work equipment will be used.

Equipment must be checked at intervals not exceeding seven days. Mobile platforms don’t require a new inspection and report every time they are moved to a new location on the same site, but you must also ensure that before you use any equipment which has come from another business or rental company, it is accompanied by an indication (clear to everyone involved) of when the last thorough examination was carried out.

Issues that employees mist be consulted on are:

*Risks arising from their work

*Proposals to manage and/or control these risks

*The best ways of providing information and training.

Developing a system for reporting and investigating incidents

In the construction industry, incident reporting systems can be used to analyse track and document accidents and incidents that take place across or on a specific job site.

The data gathered can help develop current strategies and improve safety.

In conclusion, working at height remains one of the most dangerous activities in the construction industry, with falls from height being the leading cause of death and serious injury. JMAC has highlighted the risks of working at height and the importance of taking measures to prevent falls. Proper employee training, equipment selection, and regular equipment inspections are crucial for ensuring worker safety. Employers have a legal obligation to provide their teams with equipment that reduces the risk of falls, and workers must be educated on fall prevention techniques and safety protocols.



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JMAC Safety Systems | Portrack Grange Road, Stockton-on-Tees, TS18 2PH