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The most common cause of fatal work accidents is working at height. Despite the great attention to this theme, it proves difficult to prevent this type of accident. In this article we take you step by step along the measures.
 
 

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Officially, working ‘at height’ includes any activity that involves a risk of falling, regardless of the actual height! “At any rate, there is a risk of falling when there are risk-enhancing circumstances, openings in floors, or when there is a danger of falling 2.5 meters or more”.1

The 2.5 meters is mentioned literally in the decision and, in the Netherlands, it is often enforced. The height in question varies per country, France for instance uses a height of 2 meters, while England takes a much broader approach and states that working at height is anywhere, where there is a risk of falling, even if it is at ground level (so 0 meters2). After all: even at smaller heights, there is a risk of injury. That is why Dutch legislation isn’t limited to those situations above 2.5 meters, but: with (all) activities where there is a risk of falling (regardless of the height), the risk of falling is addressed with effective provisions3. Because injuries don’t occur only when you hit the ground, but also because of the underground and the objects that you encounter during the fall, like sharp pens and grating walls. So measures have to be taken on the basis of the risks.
 
Work situations
When we say ‘height’, we actually also mean ‘depth’, including sewers, construction wells, water basins or ship interiors. Due to the differences in height, these activities are dangerous here as well, because every misstep could be fatal. Not only employees can fall, but also objects, like roof tiles, equipment, helmets, etc. These objects form a risk when people are working on different levels above one another.
The practical situations are very diverse. Many of these activities involve construction, installation and maintenance work. These kinds of activities require a great deal of concentration. The disadvantage is that people can only really focus on one thing at a time: either on their work, or on their safety. When putting measures in place, people always turn out to be the weakest link, which is why it is important that as many preventive measures as possible are put in place to limit the risks.
 
[1] Arbobesluit 1997, art. 3.16, lid 2
[2] Work at Height Regulations 2005, art. 2, lid 1
[3] Arbobesluit 1997, art. 3.16, lid 1

 

Which legislation is relevant?

Falling from a height is one of the most common work-related accident, especially in construction and industry. In addition, many accidents involve falling objects, Falling from a height is a collective term for various ‘falling scenarios’, which include falling from a ladder or stairs, falling from scaffolds and falling from a motionless vehicle or object.

The law prescribes that activities at height can only be carried out from a safe scaffold, installation, landing or work floor. If that is not possible, other effective measures have to be taken to limit the risk of falling. If that is also not possible, the most suitable tool has to be selected to carry out the work as safely as possible. The RI&E or specific TRA has to determine which measure or work tool is the most suitable for a certain situation.

There are various legal rules and guidelines when it comes to working at height. We refer to articles in the Decision Working Conditions:

- Health and safety decision article 3.16: Preventing the risk of falling – the employer has to take the necessary measures.
- Health and safety decision article 7.18b: Hoisting and lifting equipment for people.
- Health and safety decision article 7.23: Use of work tools for working at height, like ladders, scaffolds and stairs.
- Health and safety decision article 7.34: Scaffolds.

In addition, in the health and safety catalogues for sectors in which people often work at heights, measures are prescribed or organized in the order of preference.
 

Risk approach

How do you tackle the source of the risk?

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The first step is always to try and remove the cause of the danger. These days, elements like roof constructions are increasingly prefabricated, which means that most of the work takes place on the ground. Also, constructions or devices are more and more installed in accessible places. 

More and more window cleaners no longer work on ladders, but use a telescope lance to reach the higher windows (working at height can be prevented, but what about the ergonomics and physical burden?)

These kinds of clever solutions help remove the risks of working at height, but they replace them with new / other risks, so always keep an eye on the balance and assess alternative approaches using the RI&E, to determine whether it is really an improvement, or merely a shift in risks. 

What are collective measures?

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However, it is not always possible to tackle the cause, in which case other measures can be taken: Scaffolds and platforms are common tools that are used by people working at heights and they are easy to deploy. Fences and railings also create a workable situation in which the risk of falling is (partially) removed. But which of those measures are collective measures? As a rule, collective measures protect ‘the collective’, so everybody. These measures are protections do not depend on the correct usage by the user. Platforms do not fall into this category, while scaffolds, railings and non-moveable grids are indeed collective measures that protect everybody.

These measures can be both a temporary and a structural solution. The duration and repetition of the activities have to be taken into account to determine the appropriate measure. Aesthetics are another aspects. Although churches are being restored regularly, they are not constantly covered in scaffolds. 

Although costs aspects shouldn’t really play a role, in practice, we do see that costs are taken into account in the choice of protective measures. 

At the same time, the law also leaves room to choose alternative protection, for example in situations where constructing and dismantling measures entail greater risks (due to the element of time) than the actual work. However, the alternative protection has to be sufficiently effective. 

What are individual measures?

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Some work environments are more difficult and required tailor-made safety. Usually, they do not involve large groups of people having to be in the same place, or the duration of the activities is limited. Individual measures are limited to the individual or a small group, for instance in the case of a platform: suitable for one or more persons to carry out quick activities in locations that are difficult to read, like changing a lightbulb at the ceiling of a large hall. In that instance, building a scaffold, compared to how long it takes to change the bulb using a platform, due to the time frame involved, prevents a much greater risk than using a platform. Working from a container in a crane or on a forklift truck is allowed only to a limited extent.

[1] Arbobesluit 1997, Art. 7.23D, lid 1

Which personal protective measures can protect in this case? 

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As an ultimate protective measure, employees are protected with personal protective gear against falling (positioning) or against the impact of falling (breaking the fall). For personal protective gear, the following options are available:

Positioning
Employee is connected with a rigid line to a fixed point using a harness. This prevents the employee from reaching the edge where there is a risk of falling. Can be applied on roofs, scissor lifts or containers on forklift trucks / in cranes or on telehandler. By limiting the working area, the risk of falling is reduced.

Fall protection
Employee is connected to an anchor point with sufficient strength with a rigid line + fall dampening, so if the employee falls, the dampening slows down the fall and provides absorption of the impact.

Rope Acces
Climbing belts that have been developed especially for climbing / sitting and hanging. Using multiple ropes that are connected to different anchor points, the employee hoists himself to the correct position. This application is used, among other things, for tree maintenance, as well as inspections/cleaning activities at great heights, or depths. People who work in Rope Access have to be physically fit and they have to have received enough training.

Lanyards (Protection for tools):
By attaching tools and materials to an object or personal belt, they can be prevented from falling, which reduces the risk for the employees. 
 

General measures

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Maintaining distance:
f you work on the roof, you don’t have to go near the edge. When working at more than 4 meters from the edge, that 4 meter boundary is enough as a demarcation of the safe area on the roof. If the work area lies between 2 and 4 meters from the edge, a physical separation has to be placed at 2 meters from the edge, of at least 1 meter in height7.

Work preparation: by mapping the activities, the appropriate measures can be taken in time, either by avoiding working at height, or mapping additional risks for the activities and circumstances, which makes it possible to prevent all unnecessary risks.

TRA: by carrying out a Task & Risk Analysis prior to the work activities, the risks of the activity or workplace can be mapped. On the basis of that analysis, work activities can be planned differently to avoid risks, or appropriate measures can be put in place, while employees can received timely instruction and training. 

Training and instruction:
Depending on the results of the TRA, the training requirements can be mapped. Are certain work activities at height a recurring thing or are employees expected to start working with platforms or otherwise, it is important to make sure they have the necessary experience in working with those tools. A general training ‘Working safely at height’ allows your employees to recognize the dangers and learn about measures that are needed to work safely at heights. 

Toolbox:
communication can be used to discuss project- or task-specific measures with employees. Often also used to inform people about the correct usage of personal protective gear.

LMRA (Last Minute Risk Analysis):
the last check of circumstances, tools and information, before work commences, making it possible to respond to the most recent work situation. We provide instruction leaflets that focus specifically on working at height.

A clean workplace:
Sometimes, tools and materials are literally everywhere. By organizing them and keeping the work environment clean, many accidents and injuries can be prevented.  
 

How to create awareness and support?

We notice that employees only begin to see the risks of differences in height when they talk about it. The dialogue during information and training sessions is a helpful tool in that respect. In particular when we simulate the work situation, employees gain more insight into the consequences. During training sessions, theory and practice alternate. We test their knowledge and provide the employees with a certificate afterwards. 

How do we encourage protection?
Protection has to be geared toward the employee and his circumstances, which can vary in duration, frequency, type of work and comfort. 

It is recommended to involve the employees in selecting the protective gear. By having them test the options for themselves, you know which gear offers the best protection. Take their opinion seriously, so that they are more motivated to wear their personal protective gear.

In a situation in which everyone gets handed out their own personal harness, the simplicity with which a harness can be adjusted is perhaps less important. In a situation in which an organization opts in favour of a limited investment, in which everyone uses the same harnesses, that simple adjustability is the key to the correct usage of the harnesses. Involving the employees in the selection process and in describing the internal business processes, you gain ambassadors for your company’s policy, breaking through the stigma “the bosses came up with another impossible idea” and endues that employer and employee together realize a better end-result.

Advice:


Our PPG advisors provide a clear overview of the risks and, on the basis of that overview, can advise you about the most appropriate measures. Needless to say, they are up to speed on all the pros and cons of each brand and type of PPG, so you expect a “fitting” advice from us. 



 

Fall protection
Work at height? Use the safest tools!

All information about our fall protection

 

Risk of drowning
Prevent a fall in the water

Everything about standards, legislation and effective measures

 

Who we are
VeiligGoed in a nutshell

Read more about our mission and services

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