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Working Safely at Heights - A Trainer's View

HAZCON has delivered a number of working safely at height training courses in recent times. It is increasingly apparent that many small organisations that do not have robust systems for managing safety and some larger organisations such as schools, have yet to have understood their legal duties when asking an employee to perform tasks that involve working at height where there is a potential for a fall of more than 2 metres.

Firstly, the organisations tend to think that one step ladder will suffice for all types of work or access, and secondly, a person can work alone. The latter is especially true for schools where the facilities management person is tasked with retrieving a student's ball or shoe etc off the roof of a portable class-room during class time.

The Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 Part 3.3 - Prevention of falls are clear as to the control measures and emergency procedures that are to be in place, so far as is reasonably practicable. Admittedly, it may not be reasonably practicable for schools to have fixed stairs to access every roof or bring in an elevated work platform to get access to the gutters or roof. It is however, reasonably practicable to have sufficient ladders, both step platform ladders and extension ladders, with associated ladder anchor points. It is also reasonably practicable to make a person available to assist the climber, as required, to foot the ladder, keeping students away and respond to a fallen person. It is a legal requirement that such a person would be able to respond immediately after a fall and offer first aid.

Similarly, it is not appropriate to use a step ladder and stand on the second last rung whilst fitting a tool to a drill when working on plant. When using a ladder as a control measure it is a legal requirement that it is fit for purpose, is appropriate for the duration of the task and is set up in a correct manner. Instructions provided with (or on) the ladder need to be adhered to and may form the basis of a safe system of work.

Employers and workplace managers should be aware of their duties in relation to the prevention of falls including the provision of suitable equipment; and employees who perform work at height, should be given every opportunity to gain knowledge and skills to plan and execute the work safely.

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