Why working at height risks continue to impact construction customers

At a glance

  • Construction firms remain under scrutiny over unsafe practices and poor standards
  • Falls from height result in a significant percentage of injuries reported in the construction sector
  • Most of the falls are attributable to a combination of factors, such as poor planning, management control, systems of working and training


With the announcement of another targeted inspection initiative from HSE Inspectors during September 2014, safeguards for those whose jobs involve work at height will again come under scrutiny.

In a similar initiative this time last year, over 1,100 construction sites failed safety checks with one of the most common problems being the standards adopted for such work. For brokers who have construction customers, they should advise them to ensure that they continue to implement the correct procedures where such work is required.

Within the construction industry, falls from height are still one of the biggest causes of workplace fatalities and major injuries. In August 2014 alone, the HSE reported on eight separate court cases, where workers had either been injured or killed from accidents such as falling from ladders or scaffolding, or through fragile roofs.


“For construction customers, failing to manage health and safety effectively can have damaging consequences,” says Huw Andrews, Practice Leader, Casualty at Zurich Risk Engineering. “Minimising the potential for accidents by implementing robust health and safety procedures is key to containing insurance spend. And, should things go wrong, having a strong audit trail will help in defending claims.and minimise any cost in protecting the company’s reputation.”

Construction customers should aim to do as much work as possible from the ground. When working at height cannot be avoided, the HSE recommends they follow the below steps:

  • Ensure that work is properly planned in advance and adequately supervised
  • Prevent falls using either an existing place of work that is already safe, or the right type of equipment
  • Give collective protection measures (e.g. edge protection, scaffolds) priority over personal protection (e.g. harnesses), taking account of the specific working conditions
  • Implement standards that need to be met for working platforms, guard-rails, toe-boards, nets, airbags, harnesses etc
  • Ensure workers can get safely to and from where they are required to work Ensure equipment is suitable, stable and strong enough for the job, maintained and checked regularly
  • Take precautions when working on or near fragile surfaces
  • Provide protection from falling objects
  • Consider emergency evacuation and rescue procedures
  • Restrict unauthorised access where this is necessary
  • Ensure the safe use of any lifting equipment
  • Provide adequate lighting
  • Ensure adequate precautions where work is required around overhead services
  • Ensure that no work at height is carried out when there are adverse weather conditions
  • Provide adequate training, information, instruction and supervision for those involved

Identifying the difficulties

Equipment, such as mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPs), have been cited as a recent safety concern after a rise in worker deaths over the past few years, but most falls from height are often due to poor management control rather than the failure of the equipment.

“In many cases, it is human error,” said John McMullen, Chief Engineer at Zurich Engineering. “Often, the people who are operating the MEWPs have not received the proper training. This leads to toppling incidents, where the stability is compromised and the vehicle falls over.”

This lack of proper operation is one of a number of factors, including inadequate information, instruction, safety and supervision that can all lead to fall-related injuries within the construction sector.

Reducing the risk

Keeping employers and others safe whilst working at height should remain a key priority for all construction customers. And there are a number of standards they should be striving to reach.

The Health and Safety at Work Act, Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations and Work at Height Regulations all contain a number of principal duties for construction firms when it comes to preventing falls.

“Preventing falls from height is, and will always remain, a key consideration for the construction industry,” says Huw. “Brokers’ customers need to ensure they understand what is required of them and do everything they can to ensure that adequate precautions are implemented.”


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Article supplied by Zurich.co.uk

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