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How to protect workers at height

Are you scared of heights?

Even if you’re not part of the 5 per cent of the population to suffer from acrophobia[1] (to use its proper term), you’ll still know that being in high places can be seriously dangerous without the proper precautions. To ensure that people who work in high places are properly protected, and to clarify the responsibilities of employers, legislation and regulations have been put in place by the government, including the Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974 and the Work at Height Regulations (WAH) of 2005.
If you’re an employer, or somebody who commissions work at height, the WAH regulations require you to have a health and safety management system in place that:

  • Enables all work at height to be planned
  • Applies the ‘hierarchy of control measures’
  • Selects the right people and equipment for the task
  • Inspects and maintains the equipment used
  • Ensure that the people undertaking the work are appropriately trained and competent
  • Ensures supervision and monitoring of work as per method statements, work instructions and tool box talks
  • Protects others that may be effected by the work

If working from height cannot be avoided, then your first priority is to prevent falls from happening. Collective fall preventions like guardrails must take preference over personal measures. In some situations, it may not be practical to prevent a fall.

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Personal fall arrest systems can save lives

If it is not practical to prevent a fall from happening, fall arrest systems can be used to limit the distance of the fall and the forces associated with arresting the fall. If a worker does unfortunately fall, personal fall arrest systems, which involves the harness wearing worker being attached to a suitable anchor point via a lanyard or lifeline, which will limit the distance of the fall, and reduce the forces associated with arresting the falling person.

To prevent injury to the worker, personal fall arrest systems typically incorporate shock absorbing lanyards, self-retracting lifelines, or an installed vertical or horizontal cable or rail system. But whichever you choose to use, it’s important to remember that under WAH regulations, you as an employer, have a duty to make adequate provision for rescuing the fallen worker during these situations.

Following a fall, a person suspended in a harness may be subject to a condition commonly known as suspension intolerance, which is a result of the blood pooling in the lower part of the body, starving the brain of an oxygenated blood supply. The initial symptoms can occur in a relatively short time and can eventually lead to death. This means that in most cases, waiting for the emergency services to arrive and perform the rescue is not a viable option.

Rescuing fallen workers requires a fast response

As so much potentially depends on your rescue plan, you need to consider all foreseeable situations. It may be the case that the fallen person is well and conscious and able to perform a self-rescue. However, you also need to consider other situations, which can include:

• A medical emergency that led to the fall, e.g. if a worker has a heart attack and then falls, deploying the arrest system
• Injuries incurred during the fall, such as collisions with parts of the structure or objects falling from above

You must also be able to cope with the immediate aftermath of the rescue, in terms of first aid provision.

3M Fall Protection keeps workers at height safe

As we’ve seen, working at height is both a complex and a dangerous business, and there’s a lot to be considered when it comes to preventing accidents. To ensure the safety of their employees, responsible employers, commissioners and contractors rely on experts to supply fall protection equipment and training. 3M is a world leader in fall arrest training, including training in rescue and refresher training, as well as a leading supplier of fall arrest and rescue products.

For more information on 3M Fall Protection and support services, visit: 3M.com/FallProtection.

[1] http://healthresearchfunding.org/acrophobia-statistics/

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