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The Journal for Employee Protection
The Journal for Employee Protection
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Today’s employers are increasingly conscious of their safety responsibilities and the need to manage risks effectively. Eurostat statistics around worker injury and fatalities, which generally follow a downward trend, go some way to proving that. Falls from height, however, still remain the leading cause of workplace fatalities. So, if it’s your aim to achieve a ‘zero injuries’ workplace (as it should be), what issues need consideration to keep those working at height safe? Jon Rowan, MSA Safety’s Product Line Manager, offers advice on how to go beyond compliance and take a 360° approach to fall protection safety.
Fatal injuries are decreasing
There’s no doubt that worker safety across Europe is becoming a more important focus in industry. Many employers are taking an increasingly holistic approach to health, safety and wellbeing, recognising that a wide range of factors can affect employee performance and decision-making. This approach, underpinned by diligent safety processes and sophisticated safety equipment, can help to mitigate risk in the workplace.
“today’s employers are increasingly conscious of their safety responsibilities and the need to manage risks effectively”
But, while fatalities in the workplace due to falls from height across
the EU’s 28 member states have decreased in recent times, just one fatality is
one too many and falls from height remain the single biggest cause of workplace
fatalities. After all, a fall from
height is an extremely serious thing. A fall of 3.05 m (10 ft.) takes just 0.8
seconds and the velocity reached on impact with the ground is 7.74m/s (17.3
mph). In the UK, falls from height accounted for 25% of fatal injuries
over the five-year period 2014/15 to 2018/19 – an average of 36 fatalities a year (Source: RIDDOR). So, how can you minimise risk? What should
you consider and where should you start?
Avoid if at all possible
Quite simply, the best way to
prevent a fall is to eliminate – as far as possible – the need to work at
height in the first place. This means carrying out as much work as possible
from the ground, using extendable tools, installing cables at ground level,
lowering a lighting mast to ground level, or assembling edge protection at
ground level (to name just a few examples).
If working at height is unavoidable
then help to prevent falls using either an existing place of work that is
already safe or the right type of equipment. This equipment needs to be
suitable, strong enough for the job, properly maintained and checked regularly.
If the risk remains then minimise the distance and/or consequence of a fall via
collective protection such as safety nets and soft landing systems (i.e. air
bags installed close to the level of work).
Training is fundamental to success
Training is central to helping
workers understand the risks of working at height, the role they play in
ensuring safe working practices, and how the chosen fall protection system
works, including any limitations. At MSA we recommend a classroom session with
a small group of people followed by practical training. Participants will be
taught the necessary theory and be given ample opportunity for hands-on
practice. This will instil a certain sense of confidence – confidence to not
only use the equipment but understand the associated risks of working at height
and raise any potential issues.
Understanding the risks on
Begin with a detailed risk assessment of your particular working
environment. Each industry sector carries its own inherent risks but there are
complex variables depending on individual situations. In construction, for
instance, hazards range from the vertical distance of a fall to fragile
roofs, roof lights, voids, sloping roofs, deteriorating materials, unprotected
edges, and unstable or poorly maintained access equipment. Adverse weather
conditions, falling objects and electric shocks are also risk factors.
In the electrical sector, hazards include burns, fires, leaks, spills,
electrical shocks and arc flash, while telecoms sector workers need to stay
safe while working on a range of structures from towers to monopoles. Other
inherently dangerous work environments include oil and gas rigs where basic
everyday tasks such as maintenance and deck operations account for 70% of the
major injuries on rigs in the North Sea oil fields. The aviation industry is
also another industry where working at height is part of everyday life, whether
it be in the manufacture and repair or maintenance and inspection of aircraft.
Specify the right fall
Identifying which fall protection solutions will best meet your needs is
essential. Using a collective protection system that prevents the worker from
being exposed to a hazard is always preferable. If this isn’t viable then look
at personal protection systems to restrain the user or minimise the distance
and consequences of a fall. This typically includes a fixed fall arrest system.
Whatever the means the vast majority of work at height involves wearing a
fall protection harness. There are many, many harnesses on the market across
Europe today but they don’t all offer the same level of protection. So, make
sure you know what you want your harness to do. Is it intended for work
restraint or fall arrest?
All harnesses for sale in Europe should comply with EN361:2002 but there are other
issues to consider too. For example, any equipment used for working at height
where there is an arc flash risk should be tested to ASTM F887/2005 – a
unique standard combining drop tests and the ability to withstand arc flash.
Harnesses that have waist and leg padding, and easy-to-adjust buckles so that
they don’t slip while being worn, are also preferable.
At MSA we believe that every
harness should offer form, fit and function. Comfort may not seem like a
priority but as the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) points out,
‘uncomfortable equipment is unlikely to be worn properly’. And, of course, in
the worst-case scenario, it may not be worn at all.
If you’re in any doubt about
which solutions best meet your needs or if you’re unsure whether you are
choosing products that will be compatible, consult with an independent
specialist like MSA. Remember, individuals’ lives are at stake so it’s
important to make the right choice. And once you’ve chosen a solution, make
sure you adhere to manufacturer guidelines, read all the labels and carry out all
necessary pre-use inspections.
Now enjoy the rewards
The benefits of adopting a
rigorous 360° approach to fall protection are
quickly realised in a business. Employees who are properly trained to use fall
protection equipment and address the potential risks of working at height are
more likely to be engaged, diligent, and, ultimately, loyal to you as an
employer. It can go a long way to eradicating any trace of historic complacency
and ignorance and replacing with a strong, safety-first culture. So, don’t let
your workers become another health and safety statistic. Insist on the best
fall protection systems, advice, training and support and help ensure that your
workers return home safely today and every day.
For more information on MSA Safety’s fall protection
solutions, visit www.MSAsafety.com
MSA Safety is a global designer, manufacturer and supplier of industry-leading safety products, including its iconic V-Gard® head protection range used by millions of workers in the toughest environments the world over.
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