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Employers' duties when asking employees to work at heights or work in confined spaces

Posted by Ian Good on 9 July 2020
Employers' duties when asking employees to work at heights or work in confined spaces

Employers arrange training for their employees so that they have the skills and knowledge to safely conduct work at height or in confined spaces. However, they should also consider when not to work at height, or enter a confined space. This approach aligns with the legislation when applying the hierarchy of controls, which firstly asks employers to eliminate the need to work at height or enter confined spaces.

Having recently completed a confined space review for a client, many of the confined spaces and working at height spaces I observed could be modified so that the regular tasks performed by staff would preclude them from entering or working such that they are exposed to a fall. In some instances the potential fall was up to 8m into a well.

When I pointed out the fall hazard, my contact immediately wanted to wear a harness and anchor it to whatever they felt was sufficiently robust. Furthermore, they had not considered rescue if they were to fall.

An elegant solution would have been to insert a small access hatch on the installed grating over the wells through which the work of checking level sensors, could be performed without any risk of falling.
Elimination is always the primary option.

Obviously, there are times when working at height using the other hierarchies is required as is the need to enter a confined space, and in these circumstances employees do need to be trained and competent to perform the high risk work. However, the missed opportunity to explore all possibilities to eliminate the risk, as the first step, is a failing of many employers.

Author: Ian Good
Tags: Ian Good


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