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Working at height: Keeping it safe

As modern buildings grow ever taller and more complex, much work is being done to minimise the danger of falls when working at height. However this is only part of the problem, as objects dropped from height pose an equally serious safety risk. Harsco Infrastructure global director Tony Horsfall sets out how we can stop standards falling.

As modern buildings grow ever taller and more complex, much work is being done to minimise the danger of falls when working at height. However this is only part of the problem, as objects dropped from height pose an equally serious safety risk. Our recent research has shown that materials falling from height account for over 30% of recorded safety incidents, and that in 30% of these, had the falling object struck a person it could have caused serious injury, or worse.

Despite the fact that minimising danger from dropped objects is a responsibility shared between those who plan safety systems, those who police them and those who actually work at height, there seems to be a disproportionately small amount of effort being invested into this area.

Planning stage

The process of reducing the danger should start right at the planning stage. Providers of scaffolding, mobile platforms and other access equipment are ideally placed to offer advice on this subject, and so should be the first port of call. Get them involved in your project early on and let them design out the potential for dropped object accidents before they even arise.

Training is also crucial. Any staff working at height must have sufficient training and experience to tackle the work required of them. Then before work starts, a careful site risk assessment should be carried out and a system of safe work implemented - one that has been prepared in accordance with the demands of the Working at Height regulations.

General working arrangements have a significant bearing on the potential for objects to be dropped, and so once work commences, good practice demands that periodic assessments be completed by appropriately qualified individuals. Daily toolbox talks and pre-work checks can also be used to discuss the potential for incidents.

Pressure to meet schedules

During a project, pressure to meet construction schedules and familiarity with the job can cause people to become complacent over safety. Trained and experienced supervisors should be on hand to guard against this by carrying out both planned and random safety checks to ensure that procedures are being followed and the potential for accidents is being minimised.

Don’t ignore the people actually carrying out the work either. They are used to working at height, and probably have useful health and safety experience to contribute. Get them involved in assessing the risk of objects being dropped. It will keep their mind on the subject and their input can be very valuable.

Some companies, such as our own, have already made great strides towards tackling the dropped object problem.

We introduced our own HI-DROPS initiative in 2011 and this has resulted in various new awareness and training measures which highlight the problem. However there is always more that can be done and we are currently examining improvements to our product and tool handling activities, such as the tethering of tools and enhancing our personal protective equipment standards.

  • Tony Horsfall is global director,safety, health, environment and quality at Harsco Infrastructure

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