What is working at height?

I am sure we have all sat in a Working at Height training course and the question “What is working at Height?” or “When are you working at Height?” has been posed. Answers will vary and common answers include “when you are over xxxxx feet/metres” or “ just off the ground”.  I suppose they are both correct in parts. As the Work at Height Regulations 2005 define it for us as – Work at height means work in any place where, if precautions were not taken, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury. You are working at height if you:

  • work above ground/floor level
  • could fall from an edge, through an opening or fragile surface or
  • could fall from ground level into an opening in a floor or a hole in the ground

It also tells us this does not include a slip, trip on the same level or walking up or down on a permanent staircase in a building. So what are our common working at height activities? Working on a roof, using a ladder, or looking down a deep hole?  All of them are so I hear you say “we know all this so what’s your point?”

My point is if we know this already why does ‘Falls from Height’ top the accident charts year on year in the UK? In 2020/ 21 despite the slowdown in construction and other industrial sectors there were still 35 reported fatalities resulting from a fall from height, this is 25% of all reported worker deaths over one year. If we look back this is a regular trend year on year only sometimes to be beaten by being struck by a moving vehicle…  What a choice!

So, what’s the solution to the problem?  I hear the comments “you can’t, accidents happen” and “you can’t fix stupid”.  I sincerely believe we can start to fix the problem.  From my own experience of over 30 years in industry from the Utilities and Civil Engineering sectors I have seen a huge shift, albeit not a speedy one, to a much safer way of working.  I, like a lot of people, will have sat through many flavour of the moment safety schemes, which have played a part in the change, but deep down we need to make people want to change their attitude to how they work and this starts right at the top with senior management.

Many years ago, as an apprentice for the “Board” we spent the first 3 months of our time in the training centre learning the “correct way” of doing it from some colourful characters cleverly disguised as training officers, often guys who were coming to the end of their careers with hundreds of apprentices through their watchful eyes.  Fast forward those 3 months and you get out on the tools…  The wily old ganger, flat cap and rolly hanging out of his mouth, pipes up “Young’un, forget what they telt ye in the training centre we’ll show you the reet way”.  These right ways had more corners cut than a Grand Prix, but it made you bonus. As this way of working disappeared there was a noticeable shift in the way safety was approached.  The old “do it because I told you to” days were going and the move to “do it because its for your own wellbeing” was on the way. I have now trained for over 15 years people from many different sectors and industries and thank fully we are much more invested in our safety at work, this is because I see a genuine willingness to change from the people at the top and not always for the “we have to do it” but “because they want to do it” and this approach filters down.

How does that all come back to my first question of “What is working at height?”  No matter what the original question was I think the answer to it come down to the investment in the worker, their education and continuous development in the skills that will keep them safe at work. Good passionate trainers are out there with a real dedication to the people that sit in front of them every week. If we take our working at height question and think how we improve the fact workers are still dying in the UK as a result of a fall, I firmly believe it comes back to good quality investment in training.  Information and supervision on all levels is essential.  This is giving the worker all the correct knowledge and skills to make the correct decisions out on site from a basic roof access job to using ropes to access a 200m structure.  We have a duty to keep our people safe. Richard Branson is quoted as saying “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” I think this rings very true.

I am proud to be involved with a new training course aimed at reducing this horrifying accident rate through providing the quality training and information needed.  Through one of the largest fall protection system manufacturers and suppliers worldwide, MSA Safety, a new City and Guilds endorsed 2-day Working at Height and Rescue from Height course has been developed. This training will become the benchmark of quality working at height training for our common working at height activities throughout the UK and Europe.

Eurosafe Solutions Training will be delivering this at our bespoke working at height training facility in Sheffield from January 2022, for more information please contact us on training@eurosafesolutions.co.uk or visit our website https://training.eurosafesolutions.co.uk/

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